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Rally Champion Needs to Eat Right

6 September 2004

Why NZ’s National Rally Champion Needs to Eat Right

Chris West is New Zealand's national rally champion his name is not yet as famous as that of the late Possum Bourne the icon of rally driving in New Zealand. However, Chris is determined to be the ‘best’ in his chosen sport although it could be harder for him than for others as he suffers from Coeliacs disease. Coeliacs is a problem shared by 1 in 85 New Zealanders and for Chris this means he has had to learn to control what he eats or risk under performing.

All sportsmen will tell you they have to look after their diet but Coeliacs disease brings its own complications.

Rebecca Douglas-Clifford of Eat Right Foods - a company that specialises in making healthy treats for people with the disease – has built a business around understanding the needs of people like Chris and explains how Coeliacs disease affects them.

"Coeliacs disease is a genetic intolerance to gluten. When someone with the disease eats wheat, barley, rye or oats, the villi (hair-like projections that absorb nutrients in the small intestine) become damaged. When this happens the villi shrink or disappear, decreasing the surface area, making proper digestion impossible. It is still unclear what sets off the disease, but there are three things that go into the development of Coeliac disease: a genetic disposition (being born with the necessary genes); a trigger (an environmental, emotional or physical event) and a diet that contains gluten.

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“Coeliacs disease is the most common genetic disease of humankind (affecting over 1.2 percent of the population. It is also grossly under diagnosed. Reader's Digest proclaimed it 1 of the top 10 most misdiagnosed diseases in America. And, in the US, most Coeliac patients go an average 11 years before they pinpoint the cause of their distress - if they're lucky enough to ever be diagnosed. Sadly, for every person diagnosed with the disease, it is estimated 140 go undiagnosed," Rebecca Douglas-Clifford said. , [(Adult coeliac disease: prevalence and clinical significance. Cook HB, Burt MJ, Collett JA, Whitehead MR, Frampton CM, Chapman BA; Christchurch Hospital and School of Medicine, Sep 2000),]

But Chris was one of the lucky ones. About three years ago, he went to his doctor complaining that he couldn't digest certain foods properly and he was sent to hospital to the gastroenterology department where he went for a blood test which detected the disease.

To begin with Chris didn't think things were that bad. He could tolerate small amounts of gluten like a piece of battered fish but he certainly felt it if he had things like bread and beer. And although, at the time, he didn't think the symptoms were affecting his driving performance he said "looking back at it now, I feel so much better and probably look it too !!! I am now able to concentrate fully on the job at hand without feeling uncomfortable>"

"Being at the top of any sport requires a huge amount of commitment both mentally and physically. Now that I have a regular diet (without gluten) I'm able to train for my sport and compete in it feeling that I'm putting in that 100%. Rallying involves an enormous amount of concentration to push yourself and machinery to the limit! So feeling good in yourself is paramount and if I am eating badly I really notice the difference."

According to Rebecca of Eat Right Foods, "adherence to a gluten-free diet is the only medical treatment for Coeliacs disease. It's important to note that following such a diet isn't like other diets - falling off the wagon and being a yo-yo gluten free dieter puts someone with Coeliacs disease at risk for developing other serious autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis etc".

So how does Chris cope with Coeliacs disease when he is driving or on tour?

"Eating out does become a small problem, choosing restaurants and meals carefully is crucial before events and also have the right snack foods on hand can make a difference to my energy levels throughout the day.

“It was great to find a company run by someone who really understood the issues of Coeliac sufferers and the fact we are like everyone else, we like variety and need to give ourselves treats” Chris said.

Eat Right produces a range of organic and allergy sensitive cookies which also have numerous other benefits. Depending on the cookie, they can also be low in fat, high in fibre, egg free, no added sugar, dairy free, nut free, soy free, suitable for a low yeast diet (although not necessarily all at the same time). And all the cookies contain certified organic ingredients whenever possible. So as well as being gluten free, the cookies provide that important ‘need for a treat’ factor for Chris and others like him.

So Chris will make sure he takes with him a couple of packets of Eat Right cookies for his next gruelling Championship which starts in April with the Rally of New Zealand.


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