A SPECIAL meal will be held next week to highlight the problems faced by thousands of Oxfordshire residents who can’t eat foods many of us take for granted.

About 6,000 county people have coeliac disease, an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

Next week is coeliac awareness week, and to highlight the condition Oxfordshire Coeliac Group is hosting a gluten-free meal for 50 on Thursday.

Oxfordshire & Cherwell Valley College will provide the food at its Oxpens Road campus.

Oxfordshire Coeliac Group organiser Alison Jerred, herself a sufferer, said: “It can be frustrating. I know people who have gone out for a meal and sat there with a packet of crisps.

“The students of today need to know about people’s food allergies.”

Among the gluten-free food on the menu will be lamb with celeriac puree, asparagus risotto and lemon moulee.

College programme manager for hospitality, travel and tourism, Mark Roberts, said: “The event will provide our students with an excellent understanding of the dietary needs of those with gluten intolerance and help them to think creatively about the types of dishes which will appeal.”

Nationwide around one in 100 people have the disease. Foods affected include bread, pasta, cereals, cakes and biscuits.

Undetected coeliac disease can damage the gut lining and lead to infertility, osteoporosis and bowel cancer.

But from October last year the range of gluten-free food provided through NHS prescriptions was limited to bread and flour.

People suffering the condition have to pay for gluten-free products themselves.

Mrs Jerred said: “It means something like £2.60 for pasta. It is three or four times more expensive than everything else.

“A lot of old people on pensions and income support, they are just going without.”

So Mrs Jerred, a 36-year-old Witney mum-of-two, has welcomed the announcement that two high street restaurant chains are introducing gluten-free menus.

PizzaExpress and Ask will provide a range of items to accommodate coeliac sufferers.

She said: “It is fantastic. It paves the way forwards for other companies to do the same. It makes economic sense because we have families, we have friends.”

She hopes the pizza chains’ move will also draw in non-sufferers because celebrities such as tennis star Andy Murray have tried a gluten-free diet.

A commitment to avoid cross contamination – such as using separate ladles – is key, Mrs Jerred added.

PizzaExpress marketing director Emma Woods said: “We know, because they’ve told us, that people with coeliac disease want to come to our restaurants, and we want to welcome them. We’ve been obsessively concerned with getting our approach right.”