If you have been diagnosed with celiac or gluten intolerance before going off to college, likely you have depended on your mom for taking care of all those pesky gluten free issues. Or if you have recently been diagnosed, you need to learn the dos and don’ts of gluten free living. Now is the time for you to take your health into your own hands, as you embark on your journey into adulthood.
1 Understand what gluten free is
Gluten free is cutting out ALL forms of gliadin protein from your diet. Gliadin is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. This also includes their derivatives: triticale, duram, kamut, spelt, graham and many more.
Learn where gluten may hide: brewer’s yeast, malt, soy sauce, thickeners, etc.
Understand that the way foods are handled is as important as the ingredients in the food. Cross contact happens easily and quickly. This can be anything from crumbs on the counter, touching gluten and then touching gluten free, to blatant cross contact by putting a knife back in the jar of peanut butter, after touching gluten bread.
2 Learn how to read labels
Label reading is essential to staying healthy when you have to be gluten free. Don’t solely rely on the gluten free claim on the packaging. They aren’t always accurate. No one is checking to make sure products are properly labeled.
Looking for gluten free products is a good place to start and then double checking that there are no gluten ingredients. Even better, is looking for certified gluten free products done through GIG (Gluten Intolerance Group). Their process is very strict and they only certify products that test to 10 ppm or less. They also conduct regular testing to make sure certified products are up to the GFCO standards.
This quick reference card can be printed out and laminated to keep in your wallet. It can help, while you are learning what to watch out for and double checking labels.
3 Be strict about your diet
This is especially true if you have celiac. If you don’t take your diet and health seriously neither will anyone else. This also makes it hard for others who are gluten free. Check out this post about why this is the case.
Being gluten free and cheating on your diet just sets you up for having a hard and difficult time. The noticeable symptoms, for most people, last 3-5 days, but the body continues to react for much longer. If you have celiac, you are putting your health at serious risk for other complications: early osteoporosis, higher risk of some cancers (if you are strictly gluten free the risks normalize to the rest of the population), greater risk for other auto-immune and other health issues, sick and unable to clearly think.
4 Learn how to cook gluten free
There are so many resources online! I have several boards for gluten free recipes. If a recipe isn’t naturally gluten free, I put in the description of the pin (when I pin it) suggestions for alterations. The most sure way to know you aren’t getting gluten is to be in charge of your own food.
5 Teach your roommates
Teach your roommates about why you are gluten free. You can print out materials to help you explain it, from here. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to get it or care. However, it doesn’t hurt to try to educate your roommates and it may turn out to be a great experience and help to cut down on your stress.
Tell them what it is like for you when you get gluten. This was difficult for one of my daughters because we had been so good at not getting sick from gluten. It happened so infrequently, she didn’t know what to tell them. Unfortunately, they got to see first had when she got gluten on a really bad date! It had a neurological affect on her and for 3 days she would randomly pass out, was very tired and so weak. All of which is very unlike her.
Good roommates vs bad roommates
A good roommate will respect your things and try and help you. Your roommate even a good one, may not fully understand the cross contact risks and may try and push the boundaries. They may really think that something isn’t a big deal, like popping their gluten bread in your toaster, when you aren’t home. Many people think, you can’t be hurt by what you don’t know. Even good roommates make mistakes.
However, not all roommates are good. In the case of a bad roommate, have place in your bedroom (hopefully you have a bedroom door you can lock) where you can store the things you are worried about. My girls have always kept their toaster and waffle iron in their room on a shelf. (Even when they have had good roommates.) Accidents can happen and this cuts down the risk.
Squeeze containers for things like: mayo, jam, etc. help to reduce cross contamination from someone using your condiments on purpose or by accident.
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6 Some things to ask
- Wipe up crumbs
- Wipe out microwave
- Don’t use my jam, butter, mayo, etc. Double dipping causes cross contact which will make me sick.
- Please don’t touch my gluten free things after you have touched gluten.
- Please don’t use my pans or colander (stainless steel pans are the best. Non-stick is porous and holds onto the protein. Gluten can also hide in the nicks and scratches in non-stick surfaces, beaters and colander holes.)
- Don’t use my toaster
- If possible: ask for your own section in the fridge, cabinets (so you can keep your dishes together and separate, which can reduce your stress), and possibly counter space (My daughter’s have kept anything they were worried about, in their bedrooms: toaster, waffle iron, etc. and only brought them out to use and then put away. No accidents.)
It’s not that you don’t want to share or be unkind, but you can’t risk the cross contamination. I have a daughter who got sick doing S’mores with her roommates. They were touching graham crackers and then reaching into the marshmallow bag, contaminating the marshmallows with gluten. My daughter thought she would be okay, but definitely wasn’t. (My daughter had gluten free graham crackers)
7 See what is available on your campus
Many campus’ are starting to carry some gluten free options. Remember it isn’t enough to just have gluten free ingredients, it is also important how that food is handled. As for gloves to be changed, if there is a dedicated fryer, etc. Find out what precautions they take and how they handle the gluten free foods. There is no 100% safe place unless you are completely in charge of your food and environment.
8 Kissing can be a source of cross contact
Unfortunately this is true! If your loved one or date has just consumed gluten and then kisses you, you can get sick! The gluten on their lips or in their mouth transfers to you and without even realizing it, you are now glutened. Ask your partner to brush their teeth and wash their lips before kissing. I know this can be uncomfortable, but we are talking about your health.
Also, if someone who eats gluten applies chapstick or lipstick after consuming gluten, their lip “stuff” is now cross contaminated from cross contact. Every time they apply their lip product it puts gluten back on their lips. This is another way you get glutened from kissing.
Be upfront with your dates. Let them know you are gluten free and you can’t cheat on your diet. When possible, offer suggestions of places you can safely eat. If you are worried, eat before you go and order a salad (without croutons). Most places will at least have a salad.
10 Cook gluten free with roommates
It is always fun to share a meal with roommates. This is still doable. Pick a gluten free meal and make together. It really does depend on your roommates and how well you get along. My oldest daughter was lucky that all her roommates were interested and enjoyed doing this together. Many recipes can easily be adapted.
11 Don’t miss out on activities
If it is an activity involving food, you can still participate in the social aspect of the event. Either, eat before going, since there likely won’t be anything you can eat or take some food with you. Activities and participation are a lot of fun in college and you will regret not doing more just because of your diet. Find a way to participate without putting your health at risk. Don’t let being gluten free hold you back from enjoying these wonderful college years.
I’m not a drinker, but many drink and experiment in college. Be careful, not only are there a lot of unhealthy activities involving alcohol in college, regardless of your diet or not, but many alcoholic drinks contain gluten.
13 Find or start a campus support group
A support group is really helpful when dealing with an ongoing condition such as celiac or gluten intolerance. Having people to talk to about gluten free struggles helps you to not feel alone. You can talk through and find solutions to help manage being gluten free better when you have a group to share with.
A local University has gluten free pot lucks once a month. The students rotate where they meet and help one another with recipes and cooking issues.
Start a Gluten Free Students Facebook page for your university. For example: Gluten Free Students At . . .
To Dos From these tips:
- Learn about gluten free and any condition you have that necessitates you to eat this way.
- Educate others.
- Be strict with your diet.
- For the sake of your health, be assertive.
- Research places to eat and what is available.
- Know and understand all the ways you can accidentally get glutened.
- Have fun and get involved.
- Help others and be proactive!