If you want to go gluten-free, go to Finland

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I’m sorry; I fell off the blogging wagon there for a little while. The big news is, I’m in Finland! Right below the arctic circle in Kuopio, doing some research.

Rather than try to cover everything from where I left off, I’m just going to jump right in, and assume you’ve been with me all along. So, without further ado:
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Per capita, Finland has a record number of type 1 diabetics, people with celiac disease, and trees.

Celiac disease– an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestines when digesting gluten– has become more widely known in the last few years in the US, after a few semi-celebrities (like Chelsea Clinton) made gluten sensitivity hip.

Even so, if you walk into a random restaurant in the US– even if somewhere cosmopolitan like San Diego– and ask which menu items are gluten-free, you’re likely to get a funny look. Sure, I’ve seen some restaurants sporting gluten-free options, but it’s a rarity.

However, here, in Finland, gluten-free is everywhere. I’m living in a relatively small town, and still many menu items are labeled (G) for gluteeniton, or gluten-free. All the supermarkets have gluten-free sections, and the cafeteria at work has at least one well-labeled gluten-free option each day. And as if that weren’t enough, get this: we were on a ferry, with a little refreshment stand/cafe that sold a number of pastries. A relative of a friend with celiac disease asked if the boat had anything gluten-free, and the cashier said, Sure, and then went and made her a gluten-free sandwich.

Now that is celiac-friendly.

So what gives? Why is Finland so happily gluteeniton? Anecdotally, it seems that a lot of people have celiac disease. My sister, her uncle, the father of so-and-so. A quick search affirms the anecdotes, showing that Finland has at least the highest reported rate of celiac disease [1].

I knew coming here that Finland has lots of type 1 diabetics (relatively), with the highest incidence rate worldwide [2]. I guess I should have suspected a high rate of celiac disease as well, given the rate of co-occurrence, but, not having celiac disease myself, I didn’t think of it.

But now that I’m here, I must say: if you want to go gluten-free, go to Finland. America’s recent awareness of celiac disease pales in comparison to Finland’s full embrace of living gluteeniton!

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