Learning To Live Gluten-Free in College

Sometimes when you've been sick for so long you begin to think that your exhaustion, irritability and stomachaches are your normal state. I didn't realize until this past year that my body had an aversion to gluten and that I needed to regain my health. By definition, gluten is "A substance present in cereal grains, esp. wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough."

The most common occurrence of gluten intolerance is found in people with celiac disease. Celiac disease causes the body to be unable to break down gluten in the intestinal track with causes great discomfort to celiac patients. Gluten is found in many processed and manufactured foods. As I began to research what new foods I would be able to eat on my new food regime, I discovered many foods that I did not expect to find gluten in, and were now off limits to me. Foods such as soy sauce and even certain types of chocolate syrups contained wheat. Some of my personal favorite foods were now deemed toxic to my body, such as pretzels, pizza and pasta.

Even though my diet would not be completely changed, I was determined to find a way to eat gluten-free while in college. My first warning to my peers is that I would not recommend being gluten-free if you are not allergic to gluten. Many wheat products contain essential nutrients that the body needs. By going gluten-free when you don't need to, you could develop a deficiency in those nutrients. My other piece of advice is that you should develop a variety of options of gluten-free meals, that way you won't get tired of the same meal. When grocery shopping, look at the labels of everything you buy. Some foods may appear gluten-free, but are cross contaminated because they are produced on the same machines that product wheat products. By law, companies are required to put all allergy information on their products. A good rule to abide by is that if it doesn't specifically say it's "gluten-free" then it's probably not.

Foods such as beans, brown rice and vegetables can be a good focal point for many different meals. Personally, as a snacker, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to eat many snacks. This, however, was far from the truth. Rice cakes, popcorn and chips are gluten-free and absolutely delicious! As someone who is gluten intolerant, I feel extremely lucky to be living during this time period. Twenty years ago my choices would have been even more limited on what I could eat and many less restaurants and food companies would make accommodations for costumers who can't have gluten.

One of the biggest challenges of being gluten-free is that eating out has become much more difficult. Almost all foods in restaurants contain wheat or are cross-contaminated with wheat. However, certain restaurants such as Mellow Mushroom and The Red Elephant have gluten-free menus. After I learned to eat gluten-free, I found that my body was at a much more healthy weight and I was much more energetic and pleasant. Eating gluten-free is definitely manageable with practice and the benefits are numerous for those who are allergic. If you are gluten intolerant, like myself, keep positive and get informed on your dining options!