Gluten-free living at Guilford and beyond

Have you heard your friends talk about their gluten allergy?

Gluten itself is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species like barley and rye. It gives dough its elasticity and helps it rise to maintain its form. Basically, gluten is found in bread products, pastas, crusts, pastries and starches. It can even be hidden in sauces such as soy sauce.

Some people are allergic or sensitive to gluten. Some are gluten-intolerant due to celiac disease, which is  “a condition which damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are vital to stay healthy,” according to PubMed Health.

There are many students at Guilford who are allergic to or intolerant of gluten, such as junior Virginia Shutler.

When trying to digest gluten, “I would feel my intestines swell, my body temperature fluctuate, blurred vision and severe muscle pains that ache and feel sharp,” said Shutler in an email interview. “I also would get severe skeletal pains and aches. I was unable to hold my body up and had debilitating back spasms, along with the sensation of a urinary tract infection, migraines and feeling faint.”

Shutler has been gluten-free for a year and a half. After feeling ill for over a year, she went to a holistic doctor who suggested she cut out gluten from her diet.

Shutler’s symptoms sound horrific. Considering that gluten is in most products and the severity of Shutler’s intolerance,  one can imagine the difficulty of eating gluten-free meals in the dining hall.

“College is very difficult for those who are gluten intolerant, because rarely is anything in the cafeteria gluten free,” said Shutler. “Sauces are thickened with flour; meats and poultry are marinated with chemicals that contain gluten. Overall, it is difficult to keep things gluten-free in a large kitchen because foods are too easily contaminated.”.

Junior Lydia Rain has gluten sensitivity. She went through special testing at age ten to determine her sensitivities and allergies. Consequently, the doctors discovered she was sensitive to gluten. She “would get these sharp pains in (her) neck after digesting gluten.”  After eliminating gluten from her diet, her seasonal allergies also considerably downsized.

Rain has had a different dining experience compared to Shutler. She has been able to find satisfying food options from the cafeteria. Her meals consist of big salads with proteins.

“Being able to eat in the caf, where there is an abundance of mixed greens, fruits and vegetables and protein … that is why I eat so well,” said Rain. “If I weren’t eating in the caf, I would have a much more restricted diet because I can’t afford to buy things that would go bad.”

Rain also pointed out that it can be difficult to find a filling meal when the only options are either pastas or pizzas in the cafeteria.
Some restaurants and many grocery stores now carry gluten-free products, though the dining hall does not often have these options. Junior Jordan Poirier, who is currently studying abroad in Ghana, has found that eating gluten-free can be difficult outside of the United States.

“The labels (on food in Ghana) rarely have allergy information so basically, I stick to fresh vegetables … delicious fruit (and) tons of rice,” Poirier said in an email interview.

While Poirier tries to refrain from eating gluten, cravings do occur. While in Africa, she has missed the gluten-free products that are offered in the States.

“In America, I have alternatives such as gluten-free bread, pizza, beer, etc.,” said Poirier. “But here I have caved and eaten pizza and in turn gotten very ill.”

Students at Guilford have a variety of strange diets, from raw foods to vegan to everything in between. A gluten-free diet is just one of the many ways students are keeping themselves healthy, on- and off-campus.

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