What did Paul Hollywood really say about coeliacs?

The Twittersphere and social media gossip has been full of anger at comments made by Paul Hollywood in a recent interview that,

Paul Hollywood tweets about gluten free

Paul Hollywood tweets about gluten free

he was “sceptical about the whole Coeliac thing”.

He also said he thought that coeliac disease is often “misdiagnosed” and that people should try different breads citing Sourdough bread as an example.

And he feels that “what goes into bread is the problem” and that if you pay more for your loaf you will get better bread!”

This has left coeliac’s across the country furious. If you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease you can’t eat any bread, no matter how healthy and simple the ingredients are if it’s been made using wheat.

One blogger, Gluten Free Ireland shared her thoughts here: Paul Hollywood says he’s sceptical about the whole coeliac thing…

I watched this furore with some confusion. Having just watched The Great British Bakeoff where contestants had to experiment cooking a gluten free dish and also seeing other positive comments Paul Hollywood was making on Twitter which are very supportive to coeliac disease, I wanted to find out more.

See above some recent tweets from Paul about baking gluten free. I have a little niggle about the one which says

“Problem is I’ve dealt with flour all my life and my recipes need a lot of adjusting, but the wheat intolerance crowd have hijacked coeliac!”

Excuse me Paul – I most certainly have NOT hijacked coeliac. How ‘very’ dare you. I am wheat intolerant and when I eat wheat I get terrible stomach cramps, pain, bloating and wind. It’s painful and unpleasant and although I have not been diagnosed with coeliac disease, I still can’t eat wheat unless I’m feeling particularly sadistic. The solution for me is the same as for coeliacs – avoid wheat.

What did Paul Hollywood really say?

If you listen to the actual radio recording (link below) you will hear what he really said and I think his comments have been taken out of context.

What I think Paul means here is that some people (NOT coeliacs or wheat/gluten allergic or sensitive folks) who are eating gluten free as a choice or know they have a problem with digestion and self diagnose gluten as the problem may just be eating the wrong bread.

We all know that the rows of loaves on our supermarket shelves are now so perfect, so well risen, so stuffed full of yeast, fillers, with vitamins added back in and long shelf lives. When what people should really be eating is proper, healthy bread cooked fresh with minimal ingredients. Bread used be just flour, water, salt and yeast. It is often so far from that now – is bulk processed bread causing many people problems with bloating and discomfort etc.?

It is just one of many sad food trends, but the danger here is that people don’t find answers from their doctor. They have tests done, are not allergic or diagnosed with coeliac disease so in desperation they seek answers. Many try home food intolerance tests which are not scientifically proven, but they find relief and an improvment in their health on cutting out wheat. Good for them. We shouldn’t moan on about how it’s ‘just an intolerance’ or that these people’s problems are not real. We are the lucky ones, the ones who know why we have a problem. Consider those who still feel unwell but don’t know why. We all know how hard it is to get answers through the NHS. Or GPs cannot and never will be experts in every possible medical condition. The problem here is that cutting out a major food group without proper advise about how to substitute that food in our diets is potentially very dangerous to health and wellbeing.

But he is NOT saying all ceoliacs should just eat some nice fresh sourdough and they’d be fine. He’s not saying that at all.

There is a huge move towards ‘going gluten free’ amongst sportsmen and women and celebrities. But it’s not necessarily healthy at all if you eat processed gluten free foods in large amounts. They often contain far more fat, sugar and salt to make them taste good and perform better in the oven.

So if you’ve been tweeting in outrage, stop for a second before jumping to conclusion. Did you actually hear these words spoken or watch the interview in question? Are we, the REAL gluten and wheat free community giving Paul Hollywood a bad press where it isn’t really deserved?

Consider also that many doctors struggle to diagnose coeliac disease. [More on this coming up in an interview with Dr Chris Steele, a coeliac himself and admitted he knew very little about it before being diagnosed] so can we really expect a chef to have all the right words and understand fully the intricacies of coeliac disease, allergies and intolerances?

Diagnosis can take 7-14 years in some cases and there is a lot of misunderstanding about irritable bowel syndrome. If doctors are confused then can we really blame a celebrity chef for a few possibly ill chosen words? Especially one who does seem to have some passion and understanding for baking gluten free.

We should be encouraging him and thanking him for taking an interest in tackling the challenge that is baking gluten free. Anyone who has tried will know it’s quite a challenge when the gluten is not present.

If you want to listen to what Paul Hollywood actually said listen here https://www.spreaker.com/show/the_gfree_radio_show

Listen to what Paul Hollywood talking about coeliac disease and gluten free

Listen to what Paul Hollywood talking about coeliac disease and gluten free

I think he is doing a great job and when you consider how few celebrity chefs give even a passing thought to coeliacs or those with allergies, we should be a little more lenient.

It must be confusing for chefs when a diner says they are gluten free, a dish is prepared, totally gluten free for them and then they go and order a pastry dessert. There are a lot of people using the term ‘coeliac disease’ or requesting ‘gluten free’ or allegen free food as if it’s vital to their health. If they aren’t actually allergic their actions can cause a lot of confusion when they are then seen tucking into the very thing they claimed to need to avoid.

They don’t do us true allergics or coeliac’s any favours. So if you’re listening – all you people going gluten free by choice or those who are intolerant but can save up their gluten/wheat allowance for the pudding – be honest when you are eating out. Tell restaurants this, especially if you’re going to give in and eat the cheese and crackers for dessert. It’s all about awareness, honesty and a bit of understanding.

Why shouldn’t someone be able to request a dish without milk due to a dairy intolerance and then eat some hard cheese. They may be able to cope very well digesting cheese but not be made quite ill by milk. Or the person who has avoided wheat all week so they can have a little pastry for a meal out – if you’re intolerance often small amounts are tolerated well, but too much causes problems. This is NOT the same as coeliacs who have to avoid gluten at all costs.

So if you listen to this radio programme and hear what he actually said, what do you think?

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About RuthS

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She runs a support group for the Anaphylaxis Campaign and also writes regularly for Exchange, The National Eczema Society quarterly magazine.


  1. I haven’t listened to the radio interview, but I’ve seen some of the tweets flying around. It makes me wonder who’s advising him?

    As with any community there’s always a little, ahem, bad blood that flows and I’ve noticed that people are sometimes keen to make the distinction between Coeliac disease and wheat allergy, with Coeliac disease being seen as perhaps more serious.

    I don’t want to comment on that, but I do feel for any celebrity baker/chef who is trying to get their head around the mammoth task of baking gluten free and then finds that wheat is in the mix and one is an auto-immune disease and another is an allergy…well, yes it must be bewildering.

    I can only echo your point of ‘more power to his baking elbow’ for trying to make life easier for both coeliacs and those who suffer from a wheat allergy (whether he fully understands the subject or not).

    And also? He’s a celebrity, so as soon as he puts his head above the parapet he’s going to take some flak. I’m sure he, and his steely blue eyes, are up for that!


    • Pig! Thanks for commenting. It has certainly caused a huge stir amongst the coeliac and #GF fraternity. I get a bit annoyed about points scoring between coeliacs and those with a wheat allergy. They are not quite the same but the solution is the same -avoid wheat. Granted someone with a wheat allergy (moi) can enjoy rye, spelt etc. but the symptoms can just as debilitating and in fact, an allergic reaction can be life threatening.

      And don’t even get me started on intolerances vs allergies. Noone should ever feel that they ‘just have an intolerance’. They can very life limiting and cause untold pain and misery if they are not understood, diagnosed and managed well. There is so little understanding in the medical profession too about intolerances. A minefield indeed and one that I am just glad Mr Hollywood has ventured into. Hope he’s got his hard hat ready to field off the many angry tweeters out there though. And let’s hope some of them listen to the interview. It’s not nearly as bad as all that. In fact I didn’t find it annoying all. He was really quite positive.

  2. I think you’ve summarised things really well here. Having listened to the interview I can appreciate the point he is trying to make and I am sure we have all met someone who is self diagnosed that we are highly scepticle about, and maybe his advice could be valid for some of those people. He is definitely of not knowing his terminology and whilst I have no reason to think he should know better, it can be damaging when people in the public eye make such sweeping statements. To be honest the “wheat intolerance crowd have hijacked coeliac” statement made me cringe more than the original error.

    • Thank you Kevin – sorry for the twitter bullying for a comment ;o) I have serious problems with wheat but it’s not life threatening, just painful so I don’t even mention it often. To hear the blue eyed silver fox saying all ‘wheat intolerants’ are jumping on the coeliac band wagon made my blood boil. But there are precious few chefs fighting for and promoting gluten free. On the whole we have to celebrate Mr Hollywood – he does get ‘gluten free’. He just needs to understand the nuances of diagnosis we live with.

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