New Site Layout for Frann’s Alt.Health Shop

New layout for Frann's Alt.Health shop

I’ve been working on a new site layout for a while now, and I’m pleased to announce that it’s done.

The new design has actually been running for a few days, just to try and ensure that the bugs are all ironed out. Inevitably I’ll probably have missed something, but if you would take the time to take a look and play around, any that are left will be notified to me, and I can fix them. So you’d be doing me a favour if you came over to look, even if you don’t buy anything.

Feedback so far has been pretty good. Let me know what you think in the comments, please.

Master of Disguise: How Gluten Hides Where You Least Expect It

Previously published on 100% Gluten Free

It's no easy task finding gluten free mainstream products
It’s no easy task finding gluten free mainstream products

It can sometimes be difficult to spot the gluten hiding in your supermarket. It’s almost as if the food manufacturers are conspiring against us – they wouldn’t do that, surely?

You may find this list a bit depressing, or you can look on it as a challenge!

Here’s a list of 14 places you might not expect to find gluten:

  • Sausages contain breadcrumbs (the bread is one of the ways in which the texture of the sausage is obtained, without including an unacceptably high proportion of fat), except the most high class variety of butcher’s sausage, and even in this case it’s quite likely.
  • Burgers, grillsteaks and similar products generally also include bread or other wheat products in the mixture.
  • Crab sticks and prawnies seem to be made entirely of fish, but if you check the label you will find wheat flour or modified starch listed in the ingredients.
  • Some drinks contain gluten as a thickener, to provide ‘body’.
  • Wheat flour may be a hidden ingredient in ice cream, ketchup, mayonnaise and instant coffee.

  • You often find gluten in low fat versions of products, to make them seem less watery (for example, yoghurt, soft cheese or mayonnaise).
  • Pre-packed grated cheese is coated in flour or modified starch to stop it from sticking together in the packet – this includes the cheese sold with jacket potatoes in takeaways, unless they grate their own (but most don’t).
  • Obviously, anything coated in batter or breadcrumbs contains gluten in the coating. This makes almost every fish product out of bounds for the gluten intolerant, as the ones that aren’t coated are usually packaged in a sauce thickened with flour.
  • Monosodium glutamate, known to Chinese cooks as ‘taste powder’ or ‘ve-tsin’ is manufactured with gluten. This ingredient is very frequently included in factory-prepared goods, but may not be listed on the label – or merely described as a ‘flavor enhancer’.
  • Soy sauce is almost always made by fermenting soy beans and wheat together, so contains gluten.
  • Although wheat germ does not itself contain gluten, because of the process of separation employed in manufacture, it is likely that a small amount of gluten will be present in wheat germ sold in the stores.
  • Malt and malt extract are derived from wheat, and can be a hidden source of gluten. This is sometimes listed as maltase or malto-dextrin.
  • Any alcoholic drink made from grain – beer or whisky, for example, contains gluten.
  • Even medicines may contain gluten, used as a thickener or a binder.

I offer a wide range of food for special diets in my online shop.

Can’t Eat Gluten, Can’t Eat Lactose. What CAN I Eat?

photo by Carsten Schertzer
photo by Carsten Schertzer

More and more people are suddenly finding themselves either unable to handle gluten in their diets, or unable to handle lactose, or both.

It is a known fact that most animals can’t handle cows milk, and that it is quite bad for adult humans to drink, so why is so much of our food dairy based?

For someone who isn’t allergic to lactose, just intolerant and therefore I can handle some dairy products, it’s much easier just to suffer a little discomfort now and then, rather than change your diet. At least, that is what I thought for quite some time, as there really isn’t much out there for a lactose-intolerant person to eat.

What I didn’t know is that I was making myself much worse by continually eating dairy products such as cheese or yoghurt. I noticed a huge change in my health when I stopped eating these products, my asthma was seriously improving, my hay fever was much better and I generally felt much healthier.

However, after only a short time of not eating these products, I felt the cravings and sadly I gave in to them. Dairy products are surprisingly addictive, so once you start eating even a little cheese, you start wanting more. My friend started to notice the change in my health again and politely advised me that I really ought to stop eating dairy products and possibly try a short stint on a gluten free diet.

I decided to pay attention to her and as I was living with her at the time, I was able to live gluten free easily, because she is intolerant to it. Almost right away I noticed a huge difference in my health and wellbeing and I thought to myself, “Is there a connection between the two products?”

I started to ask around my friends and soon found that where one was allergic or intolerant to lactose, they were also intolerant to gluten, at least those who were aware of it were. So I started to look around on the internet and found that my friend had been correct. It is common for celiacs (those intolerant or allergic to gluten) to also have problems with lactose intolerance. I started then thinking, how many people out there are actually aware of this connection, because until my friend pointed it out I had absolutely no idea of this.

So what CAN I Eat?

This is a very good question, and one that sprang almost instantly to my mind. I thought “Wait, how am I supposed to live if I can’t eat gluten or lactose. So many products contain either one or both.” So I began shopping around and straight away noticed how restricted I was in the way of things I could actually eat or buy.

Sure, there are supermarkets that sell a range of “free from” products, but either they taste disgusting or are far too expensive. So, yet again I decided to skip the new diet and go back to my old ways of eating, purely because I was too lazy to actually check the labels or be inventive with food.

Though I didn’t eat dairy, I still ate bread and cakes and things that contained gluten. I soon began to regret my decision and started to suffer terrible burning pains in my throat and other unmentionable symptoms. I thought “Hey, the research is right… I had better stop eating this stuff” and I did.

Now I am finding that my health is dramatically improving, my joints don’t hurt as much and so many things have changed now I have cut both products out of my diet. Don’t be disheartened, there are plenty of foods out there that you can eat, trust me.

More and more people are becoming aware of the growing food intolerances in children and adults and many companies have started selling their “free from” products in supermarkets. If you experience symptoms such as: bloating, nausea, abdominal pain, tiredness, diarrhea, to name just a few, then it may be worthwhile checking to see if you suffer from gluten intolerance.

If you are gluten intolerant, then it may be worth leaving out dairy products, too. You will be amazed at how healthy you feel in just a short time, trust me. Even if you aren’t found to be allergic by your doctor, I would advise just leaving out gluten and dairy for a week or so and see how you feel afterwards. You might be surprised by the results.

[Editor’s note] I offer a wide range of food for special diets in my online shop.

Can I include fibre in a gluten free diet?

Fibre-rich breakfast. Choose gluten free granola
Fibre-rich breakfast. Choose gluten free granola

To keep your digestive system working properly and avoid constipation, it’s important to include fibre in your diet. There are also studies that show increasing fibre intake reduces the risk of various types of cancer and other serious health problems such as ischaemic heart disease.

When people talk about including fibre (or “roughage” as my grandad used to call it) in their diet, they are mostly thinking of wheat bran – proprietary products such as All Bran, Sultana Bran and Weetabix are often recommended by GPs, along with wholegrain bread. But what if you’re trying to exclude gluten from your diet? Are there any other sources of fibre available?

In fact, despite the overwhelming attention paid to wheat bran as a source of fibre, there are many other sources available, many of which are actually better. Fibre is found in plant stems, roots, leaves, pods and seeds. Rice bran or soy bran is probably the easiest like-for-like substitute for wheat bran, but you can get your fibre from peas and beans, nuts or dried fruit, and many fruits and vegetables.

Some sources are fairly obvious. For example, celery is very noticeably fibrous, particularly the older outer stems.

Sources of fibre suitable for the gluten intolerant include:

  • psyllium husks, chia seeds, African mango, fructooligosaccharides (commonly called FOS)
  • rice (brown or white, though the brown has a greater fibre content) and rice products, rice bran
  • possibly oats (although these may also cause symptoms in some people) and oat bran. Make sure you buy oats/oat bran with a gluten free label, meaning it was processed in a gluten free facility
  • pulses/legumes: baked beans, broad beans, butter beans, French beans, haricot beans, runner beans, soya beans, soya bran, lentils, peas
  • salad and stirfry vegetables: beansprouts, beetroot, celery, cucumber (with the skin on), lettuce, peppers, radishes, spring onions, tomatoes, watercress
  • green vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sprout tops, spring greens, spinach
  • root vegetables: beetroot, carrots, maca root (usually sold as a powder), parsnips, potatoes (especially if eaten with their skins), swede, turnips
  • other vegetables: cauliflower, leeks, mushrooms, parsley, sweetcorn, courgettes (zucchini) with the skin on
  • crisps (especially if prepared with the skin left on)
  • fruit: apples, apricots (fresh or dried), avocado pears, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, blackcurrants, cherries, cranberries, gooseberries, goji berries, grapes, grapefruit, huckleberries, lemons, lucuma (usually sold as a powder), melon, oranges, passion fruit, peaches (fresh or dried), pears, pineapple, plums, pomegranites, raspberries, strawberries, currants, dates, figs (fresh or dried), prunes, raisins and sultanas

So, can you include fibre in a gluten free diet? Yes, yes, and yes again.

Quick and Easy Meals without Gluten

Egg mayonnaise salad with baked potato
Egg mayonnaise salad with baked potato
Someone asked me, “how do i keep my meals easy/simple but without gluten?” Sounds like an easy question, doesn’t it? But if you’re gluten intolerant, you will know it’s not so simple.

In the past, I used to keep some ready meals for when I was in a hurry or too tired to cook, but most of them are off the menu now – apart from the ones I never liked! Pizza, pies and ordinary pasta are also out. I do keep some Orgran rice and corn pasta in the cupboard, which tastes fine, and is as easy to cook as any other pasta. It goes nicely with a bolonaise or tomato and onion sauce, and is also fine with just butter, parmesan and lots of black pepper.

In my kitchen cupboard, I have a packet or two of Corn Thins, in place of bread. These are really tasty, come in various different types (you can get them in brown rice and multigrain varieties as well), and have the advantage that they don’t squeak when you eat them, unlike rice crackers. They also have a taste – so far as I am concerned, rice crackers taste of nothing at all. Corn Thins are good with butter and cold meat, or jam, or honey – anything you would have put in a sandwich – though the fillings are best used as toppings, as trying to eat them in pairs with something in between is very difficult.

Most of the time, when I’m looking for something quick to eat for a main meal, I follow the sort of menus recommended by Dr Atkins (not because I’m trying to lose weight, but because cutting out carbs is similar to cutting out gluten). So this means something like a piece of chicken or a chop or steak, cooked under the grill or in the oven, or even fried. But no coating, unless you’ve bought in something gluten free (Orgran do gluten free breadcrumbs in Rice or Corn varieties).

I also like a grilled mackerel. I get the fishmonger to gut the fish and take the head off, but leave it whole. When I get it home, I open the fish out flat with the skin side up and run the handle of a knife hard along the backbone, then I turn it over and the bones come out fairly easily. A quick wash under the tap and then I put it under the grill with a knob of butter and a squeeze of lemon in the middle, where the bone has left a sort of valley. It only takes about 10-15 minutes to cook, and doesn’t need to be turned over, though I keep brushing the butter and lemon over every now and then.

To accompany the meal, ordinary fresh or frozen vegetables cooked in the normal way are fine, or a nice mixed salad. Unlike real Atkins dieters, I eat carbohydrate with my food, so long as it’s not gluten-based. I like saute potatoes or mash sometimes, and for a real treat, some mushrooms go really well with a bit of fried steak, and can be cooked in the pan at the same time.

If I don’t feel like meat, I might have a jacket baked potato, egg mayonnaise and mixed salad maybe with some shrimp (prawns). This is a very quick meal. I start by putting the eggs on, then when they are cooked I put them into cold water, leaving them to sit for a while, and put the potato in the microwave. As it cooks, I prepare the salad and put it on the plate, peel the eggs, and mash them up with some mayonnaise. Then I put the halved potato on the salad, top with the egg mayonnaise and shrimp and it’s ready. Another thing that goes well with salad is ham slices rolled up and filled with cottage cheese, maybe with a few bits of chopped celery mixed with the cheese filling.

In the winter, one of my favourite lunches is a chunky lentil soup. I put some lentils, some cooking bacon or a ham bone and a few carrots and one or two leeks sliced up (if I’ve no leeks, I cut a couple of onions into quarters instead) into a saucepan, cover with water and a lid, bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer. It only takes 20-30 minutes, and then I eat it. If you prefer it smooth, blend it after it has finished cooking, but I like it just as it is. The occasional bit of leek or bacon makes it more interesting.

I live on my own, so I don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It’s really only when I make a curry (which will do me for 3 days) that I spend a lot of time cooking. For this, I chop a couple of onions, one or two cloves of garlic and half a dozen chilli peppers, fry them gently in a little melted ghee (clarified butter) or oil with about half a tablespoonful of garam masala. When they are soft, I add 2 or 3 chicken portions or the diced meat from a cooked turkey leg, or some diced shoulder lamb, 1 or 2 aubergines (eggplants) sliced about half an inch thick and 1 or 2 sweet peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks (I like these vegetables in curry, as they go quite soft and make a good base). I push everything down and cover with as little water as I can get away with and add in a stock cube and some salt, bring to the boil and cover tightly.

When it comes to the boil I turn it down to a simmer and put my brown rice on to cook (1 cup rice to little bit over 2 cups of water, plus some salt). When that comes to the boil, I turn that down to the lowest flame I can get, and cover it. I keep checking the rice every 10 minutes or so, without stirring. About 10 minutes before I want to eat, I put 2 or 3 carrots into the curry, cut into chunks, as I like them to be fairly crisp. When I think all the water has gone, I use a fork to push the rice to one side to check, and when the bottom of the pan is dry, my dinner is ready.

I don’t usually thicken the curry sauce, but if I did I would use 1-2 tablespoonfuls of rice flour beaten into the gravy over a high heat. If I have any coriander (cilantro), I chop up a handful and stir it into the curry just before serving. Though it’s quite a lot of work, I only have to cook one day in 3 with this dinner, so I don’t mind.

For me, I find this approach to eating gluten free works well, and is quick, easy and hassle-free.

French Marigold for relief from constipation

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

French marigolds with an attitude
French marigolds with an attitude

French marigolds, Tagetes patula (sometimes labelled Tagetes lunulata), are popular bedding plants, even though they are only half-hardy, because they will flower continuously right through until the first frost if you keep picking the dead flowers off. Being orange, the flowers make a good puja as well. They’re closely related to African (or American) marigolds, but not to English marigolds.

They’re no less important in organic vegetable gardens, because of their pest deterrent properties. French marigolds are said to kill underground pests like eelworm and nematodes, and I’ve also just found out that an extract from this plant is one of the few substances known to be toxic to cockroaches. I certainly never had any trouble with pests of any kind when I grew this plant.

Although lethal to many creepy crawlies, French marigolds are safe for humans. They have a strong scent which I find attractive, although not everybody agrees with me. Medicinally, French marigolds are used as a remedy for severe constipation, as well as indigestion and colic. Make a standard infusion from the whole plant, chopped well. Use 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried herb to 1 cup of boiling water and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey if preferred.

You can also use a cooled infusion as an eyewash for sore eyes.

Like all herbs used medicinally, it’s important that you grow your French marigolds without chemicals, so as not to drink them with your medicine. For more information about growing organic French marigolds, visit the Gardenzone.

English Marigold (Calendula) is a powerful anti-inflammatory

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

A video outlining the main points covered in this post is available on YouTube here.

Marigolds are a common sight in English gardens
Marigolds are a common sight in English gardens

The English marigold or calendula, called pot marigold or just marigold in the UK, Calendula officinalis, is a common sight in English gardens. It’s a hardy annual, but it produces so many seeds, it’s unlikely you’ll need to sow it two years in a row. It’s only distantly related to the French marigold and the African (American) marigold.

It’s also useful as a companion plant in the vegetable garden where it attracts bees, lacewings, hoverflies and ladybirds, deters whitefly on tomatoes and will lure aphids away from your beans if planted nearby.


This flower is so well known that it seems unnecessary to describe it. The bright orange flowers can be seen in gardens all over the UK every year right through from June to November. I say orange, but there are marigolds in almost all colours at the red end of the spectrum, from white to palest pink, yellow, orange in many shades through to red. There are also both single and double forms, but it’s better to stick to the single ones, as these are much more ecologically friendly. It reaches a height of around 2 feet (60cm) and has slightly downy spoon-shaped leaves.

Cultivation and harvest

Marigolds are so easy to grow: you just sprinkle the seeds on the ground in Spring or early Summer, mix them into the top layer, and they will come up within a few days or a couple of weeks. Once they start flowering, you can pick them as you need them. You can use the whole fresh plant for remedies, or just collect petals and dry them for use later in the year.

Edible uses

The reason it got its common name of pot marigold was because it was one of the herbs often added to the pot when cooking. Nowadays culinary uses are pretty much restricted to the petals, which can be added to salads or dried and used for coloring rice and flavoring other foods. The leaves are also edible (but not very nice).

Contra-indications and warnings

Unfortunately, marigold is not suitable for internal use by anyone expecting a surgery in the next few weeks, and for a few weeks after surgery. It’s also not suitable for pregnant women except during labour. You should be fine using it externally, though.

Medicinal uses

Marigold is a powerful anti-inflammatory, used to treat stomach and duodenal ulcers, colitis and diverticulitis, swollen glands and painful periods. For these purposes, make a standard infusion from all parts of the plant above ground, chopped finely. Use 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried to 1 cup of boiling water and allow to steep for about 10 minutes before straining. This can be sweetened with honey if preferred, and sipped slowly over the course of an hour or more.

The same infusion, after cooling, can be used externally to treat conjunctivitis, skin conditions and thrush. An ointment or tincture made from the flowers is a very good treatment for hemorrhoids (piles), and also for cuts and grazes.


Although there isn’t a marigold essential oil, there is a marigold-infused oil, which can be used for massage and skin problems on its own or with the addition of a maximum of 2 essential oils at the usual recommended dilution levels.

Where to get it

I offer the following Calendula products in my online shop:
dried Marigold Flowers
Marigold Infused Massage Oil
Calendula and Honey Soap and
Calendula Cream.

Final Notes

Like all herbs used for medicinal purposes, if you grow them yourself it’s important that marigolds are grown organically so as to avoid consuming high concentrations of chemicals along with your remedy. For more information about growing organic marigolds, visit the Gardenzone.

Virginian Goat’s Rue fights impotence

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Virginian goat's rue or catgut
Virginian goat’s rue or catgut

Virginian goat’s rue, Tephrosia virginiana (but sometimes labelled Tephrosia virginica, T. latidens, Cracca latidens or C. virginiana), is also called catgut or devil’s shoestring. It’s an extremely hardy perennial native to the Western United States. It is not related to the similarly named (European) goat’s rue.

There seems to be some confusion online as to which plant is which, so it’s not impossible that when you go to purchase the Virginian type, you will end up with the European one. However, telling these plants apart should not be very difficult, even when they are small. The Virginian type has hairy stems and pods and sweet-pea-like flowers with a cream-colored wing and shocking pink central portion, and the European one is not hairy and has cream to pale pink flowers arranged like a lilac (although the individual flowers are much bigger than a lilac, and a different shape). The goat’s rue native to Europe reaches a height of about 4 feet (1.2m), and the Virginian goat’s rue is only 2 feet (60cm) tall.

Do not collect Virginian goat’s rue from the wild; it is listed as endangered in New Hampshire and of special concern in Rhode Island.

Virginian goat’s rue is difficult to propagate because it does not take well to transplanting, and is hard to raise from seed due to its complex ecological requirements. If you do manage to get it to grow, it will reach a height of a little under 2 feet (50cm). It prefers acid soil.

Its roots contain rotenone, which is poisonous to fish and insects (but not warm-blooded animals or humans), so it should not be grown close to a pond.

The seeds should not be taken, as they are toxic. Take care when handling Virginian goat’s rue, as it can cause dermatitis in sensitive people.

Virginian goat’s rue is mainly used as a male restorative and enhancer in cases of impotence. Make a cold extract by immersing 1 teaspoonful of dried leaves (2 teaspoonfuls of fresh) in 190 ml (three quarter US cup, 6 fl oz) of cold water for 10 hours. Strain before use. The dose is three quarters of a cup per day.

As with all herbs grown for use in herbal remedies, Virginian goat’s rue should be grown organically so as to avoid adulteration of the active ingredients by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

I’m going gluten-free – what can I eat?

Previously published on 100% Gluten Free

Photo by James Petts
Photo by James Petts

Good question.

It would be easier to say what you can’t eat!

But the question is, what can you eat. So let’s start there.

Well, for a start, obviously you can eat meat, poultry and game. That’s unprocessed meat. Avoid burgers, sausages, grillsteaks and similar items, as they almost always contain filler which is wheat based (though the highest quality may be gluten free – check the label for anything like wheat, flour, starch, and in particular monosodium glutamate).

If you like gravy, ketchup or sauce with your meat, take care. These products are almost always made with flour. Gravy granules and powders might be thickened with cornflour, because it mixes with boiling water more quickly than wheat flour, but you do need to check, particularly with the cheaper varieties. Soya sauce (except for the gluten free variety) is also off the menu, because the soya beans are fermented with wheat.

Next on the list: fruit, raw or cooked, but without thickened sauces (custard may be ok, check the label to make sure any thickening is either corn or egg based). You can also have cream, but not if it’s squirty cream containing starch to thicken it.

Vegetables are usually pretty safe. Potatoes, green vegetables and roots are almost always served without any thickening added. Again, if it’s a processed product, check the label! Watch out for coatings and fillers in frozen potato products. If you use packet mash, read the label carefully, best go for the top quality brands.

Salad prepared by your own sweet hands is great. Prepared salads are also fine, so long as you don’t use any dressing packed with it, unless you first check the label to make sure there is no wheat flour, unspecified starch or monosodium glutamate in it. Dressings you buy to put on your salad need to be checked as well. Good quality mayonnaise should be fine – Hellman’s for example – but be careful of low fat varieties of anything, as thickener is often added to make up for the lost viscosity of the oil they removed, and this is usually based on some variant of flour.

Milk, cheese and yoghurt should be fine – but again, be careful of the low fat varieties, for the reasons already mentioned. Also, don’t buy grated cheese, unless you see the deli grate it in front of you, as the pre-packaged variety is coated in – you guessed it – flour.

You can eat gluten-free bread and cakes, but these are mostly ridiculously expensive, and not very nice. A good substitute are Corn Thins from Real Foods Pty, an Australian company. They have a page on their site listing stockists around the world, including major supermarket chains. Alternatively, if you don’t mind eating food that squeaks, you can eat rice cakes. Kallo do a chocolate coated rice cake that is probably very nice, but as I do object to my food squeaking, I haven’t tried them.

As far as takeaways go, you can eat Indian food, but not the breads and chapattis. Poppadoms are fine, though. You need to check that they don’t use any thickening in their food (apart from chickpea or lentil flour), or ask them to make you a version without.

Another takeaway style that you can go for is Chinese – no noodles, apart from rice noodles (sometimes called Singapore hot noodles), and ask them to leave out the “taste powder” (monosodium glutamate). I’m afraid fortune cookies are off the menu as well, although there’s nothing to stop you reading the contents and throwing the cookie away! Like I said earlier, soya sauce must be the gluten free variety, so get them to leave it out and add it yourself at home.

All drinks except for whisky, beer, and malted drinks like Ovaltine, Milo and Horlicks should be fine, but avoid the cheaper varieties of instant coffee, as flour is sometimes used as a filler.

So there you are, a pretty good selection of gluten-free foods you can eat to your heart’s content.

Bon Appetit!