It’s no secret that eating healthy in college is difficult. All-inclusive meal plans are far more popular among students than gym memberships. However, eating around an allergy is even more difficult.
For Jenna Clute, a 19-year-old college student at SUNY Potsdam, that allergy is gluten. Clute was diagnosed with her gluten allergy in early 2017, but she had been having symptoms for years.
It is estimated that 1 percent of the population has celiac disease, according to BeyondCeliac.org, a website created by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. However, research reports that 18 million Americans may have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS for short.
The Celiac Disease Foundation, also known as CDF, defines gluten as the proteins found in grains, such as wheat, rye and barley.
Many foods contain gluten because it acts as a glue and helps food hold its shape. The CDF lists cereal, bread, pasta, salad dressing, beer, malt, baked goods and soup as some of the common foods that contain gluten.
Therefore, eating a gluten-free diet on a college campus is likely to be difficult.
“Some franchises in retail do not offer a gluten-free option or (the options) may be limited,” Jeff Vallee, a campus dietitian at SUNY Plattsburgh, said. “In addition, students are sometimes timid to speak with a manager or supervisor on their allergy needs.”
As a college student, Clute had to figure out how she would eat on campus. “I was worried about how the dietary requirements would affect the meals I ate at college,” Clute said. “I wasn’t sure where to begin.”
Now, she has it figured out, and she’s lending her tips to help other college students with the struggle of a gluten allergy.
- Explore all your meal options.
“When arriving on campus, it’s important to explore each dining location to scope out your options,” Clute said. This allows you to get to know the dining options on your campus and make a mental (or physical) list of foods you will be able to order. This step will make it easier to plan future meals and create less hassle at lunch time.
- Consume a variety of different foods.
When there are fewer options available, it becomes easier to fall into a pattern of sticking with foods that you know. “Eating gluten-free already limits the options that you can explore,” Clute said. “Make sure to try to eat different foods that are available to you.” Eating the same dish can be unhealthy and quite boring. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new. It may become your new fave dish.
- Be safe and ask questions.
If you have a severe gluten allergy, you should always make sure what you’re buying is gluten-free. When eating a gluten-free diet, you should spend some time reading food labels. “While some items claim to be gluten-free, cross-contamination can sometimes occur,” Clute advised. Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria has been transferred unintentionally from one item to another. “Don’t be afraid to ask whomever is preparing your food whether it is safe for your consumption,” Clute said.
- Create your own options and alternatives.
It is possible to create your own gluten-free options by substitution. Know what ingredients do not fit your diet, and substitute from there. “One of my go-to alternatives is a sandwich between lettuce instead of bread,” Clute mentioned. Gluten-free alternatives for pasta or bread may be available at your local grocery store.
- Plan ahead.
Planning your meals early saves you time and lessens the hassle of eating gluten-free on campus. Some foods are naturally gluten-free, such as fish, meat, eggs and poultry. When planning, try using these foods as the main staples of your diet. “Not only is (planning ahead) helpful for those with food allergies or limitations, but it also helps anyone who wants to monitor what they are eating,” Clute said.
- Don’t allow others to make you feel like you’re an inconvenience.
“Eating a rigid or specific diet is difficult and requires a lot of eliminating to our diets,” Clute said. Therefore, it’s possible that your dietary requirements may make others feel guilty for eating a food you cannot. “Do not feel like your food selections in any way inhibit them from having a satisfying meal or snack,” Clute said.
It’s also important that you don’t feel like you’re inconveniencing a waiter or cook by ordering your food differently. A gluten allergy is not something to push aside. Order your food in a way that is healthy for you.
- Maintain your health.
While it is not easy to find a plethora of options that are gluten-free, be sure you’re receiving all of the vitamins and nutrients that you need. “Your nutrition is just as important as your allergy,” Clute said.
“I would recommend every student with an allergy to schedule an appointment with the campus dietitian for a complete tour of the dining venues and services,” Vallee said.
These seven tips should help you begin your gluten-free college experience. Remember to maintain healthy eating habits and give your body the nutrients it requires.