Monday, February 24, 2014

Gluten-Free Survival Guide: College Edition- Sharing a Kitchen

Living with people that are not gluten free can pose a cross contamination threat. You have to be aware of the threats as well as be sure that those sharing the space with you are properly educated about possible issues. Last year I lived in an on campus house with two gluten-eating housemates, so I had to keep on my toes and always make sure I was careful when preparing food.

Luckily, I didn’t have much trouble with it because my housemates were understanding and careful and I took some preventative measures right away. I had my own dinnerware, cutlery, pots/pans, utensils, cutting boards, etc. all of which were solely for gluten free foods. I also kept my own sponges away from the others and they were only used with my things to avoid possible cross contamination.

In the pantry, my things were on an upper shelf above all of my housemates food and gluten containing items such as wheat flour were kept on the lowest shelf to prevent possible spills on to my foods. Also, I made sure to thoroughly wipe off any surfaces before I used them for food prep.

Tips for living with gluten-eaters:
  • ·      Be aware of possible dangers/problem areas
  • ·      Have separate utensils, sponges, cutlery, etc…
  • ·      Store GF food on shelves above gluten containing foods in pantry and fridge
  • ·      Wipe down surfaces before preparing gf food on them
  • ·      Educate those sharing the space with you 

Gluten-Free Survival Guide: College Edition- Intro

Three years ago, I began my journey as a gluten-free college student. I've had my ups and downs, victories and losses, but I've never lost hope. Adjusting to life away from home wasn't difficult for me because I'm always looking for a new adventure. My concerns about my dietary restrictions were the only thing holding me back, and that remains true in most situations. However, I'm finally at a point where I can say with confidence that I have gotten it figured out. 

From going out with friends for dinner, to going on overnight trips for track meets, I have fine tuned my strategies and come up with game plans for any situation. Planning is key and it's important to have a backup plan. My next few posts will highlight the most common situations I've come across as a gluten-free college student and offer my advice for how to go about them.

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gluten-Free: Diet Fad or Medical Necessity?

Here's a short editorial I wrote for my journalism class:

As the number of individuals who are going gluten-free continues to rise, the diet has become somewhat controversial. Many see it as a trendy weight loss fad, which is an issue for those who have to be gluten-free for medical reasons because their needs aren’t taken seriously.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. With a better understanding of gluten related ailments and an increase in testing, more and more people are being diagnosed with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that has no cure aside from a completely gluten-free diet.
It is estimated that one out of every 141 Americans has celiac disease (83% of those individuals are undiagnosed), and 5-10% of all Americans have some form of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
The most common misconception about the gluten-free diet is that it’s healthier. This may have been true when there weren’t a lot of options available and you had to eat mostly fresh, unprocessed foods, but with the recent boom in the gluten-free industry comes an increase in gluten-free “junk” food.  Food companies keep coming out with new gluten-free products such as cookies, breads, pizzas, and other highly processed foods with low nutritional values, therefore, gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.
It has also become more common for restaurants to offer gluten-free options, however, a majority of these are not truly gluten-free due to cross contamination with gluten containing items, and are only suitable for those who choose to avoid gluten or have a very mild sensitivity.
This is frustrating for those who are required to be on a strict gluten-free diet because it is catering more to those who avoid gluten because they want to and leaves those of use who have no choice in the matter with few options.
Recently, a number of celebrities and professional athletes (such as Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Aniston, and James Starks) have publically gone gluten-free. This is beneficial because it gets more attention for the gluten-free lifestyle, but it is also hurtful because some celebrities endorse it as a weight loss method, which can make it seem more like a diet fad than a serious health issue.
It’s disheartening for those who are medically required to avoid gluten because it can cause carelessness in food preparation or indifference about the importance of remaining gluten-free. For many, one crumb could make them sick for weeks, which is a malady that most can’t afford in this fast paced world.
I was sick for a majority of my childhood and missed out on a lot because I never felt well. It wasn’t until my brother was hospitalized due to severe anemia, which we eventually found out was caused by untreated celiac disease, that I got tested.
It came as a surprise because when you’re trying to figure out what it is that’s making you sick, bread isn’t usually what comes to mind. It has taken six years for my immune system to recover, and at 19 I’m finally relatively healthy.
Gluten-free is not a trendy new diet; for many, it’s a necessary lifestyle that should be taken seriously. If you think you may have some form of gluten sensitivity, ask your doctor about it because, as stated before, most individuals go undiagnosed.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Math lesson: Health > "Fitting in"

"Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got."
~Janis Joplin

College and peer pressure go hand in hand. In most cases it's the first time you've lived away from your parents. You don't have them telling you what to do all of the time nor do you have to check with them before you go somewhere or do something. This freedom is great, but it's easy to make the wrong choices without the watchful eyes of your parental units staring down on you 24/7. As someone with celiac or gluten sensitivity, it's easier to fall into a downward spiral of bad choices. It only takes one little slip to put your health at risk.

If you think I'm exaggerating, stop and think about the stereotypical college life, living off of pizza and ramen and easy access to beer and other alcohol (most of which is NOT gluten free). This stereotype, although cliché, is pretty accurate. You are put into a lot of situations where you will feel pressured to do what everyone else is doing, whether it be eat a slice of pizza, or drink a beer. When these situations present themselves, you have to ask yourself "is it really worth getting sick?" The answer to this is no. 

Having food sensitivities is a big responsibility and it takes a lot of will power. If you find yourself in these types of situations a lot, it might be time to reconsider who you hang out with, or reiterate to those people how important it is that you not consume gluten in any form. I have been lucky to have great friends who look out for me and never make a big deal out of it when I can't eat something. However, I have seen other "gluten free" students making poor choices, which saddens me. 

Remember that every time you "cheat" on your gluten free diet, you ruin a lot of the progress you have made in your health. In most cases, it takes your body a long time to heal from the gluten in your system, and permanent damage can be done if you don't adhere to your diet. Is that pizza or alcohol really worth lifelong damage?

My advice is to accept that you're different and find ways to make yourself feel more included that don't put your health at risk. Make gf versions of foods you and your friends like to eat, when you go out to eat, make sure the restaurant has gf options, or eat ahead of time and just get something to drink. Lastly, if you choose to drink alcohol, be smart about it. Find out what types of alcohol are gf and don't overdo it. I personally avoid alcohol and still have just as much fun sober being the "designated caffeinated friend."

College should be enjoyable and one of the best experiences of your life. Being gluten free shouldn't get in the way of that nor should it add a lot more stress. Stand up for your health and have fun at the same time, it isn't hard once you take the first steps. You can do it!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gluten free Chinese food? No problem!

Due to popular request,  I am sharing my recipe for fried rice. This is a family favorite that was taught to me by my mother. It's simple and delicious. I always make sure to keep some in my freezer at school because it's great when I need more veggies. When I'm home, I find myself making some variation of this at least once a week. It's a fun recipe to get creative with because you can change up the add ins. I hope you will like it as much as my family and friends do. Enjoy!

Frozen fried rice for my dorm freezer.

Fried Rice-

Freezable, leftover-friendly, and a great way to cram a lot of veggies and protein into a bowl.

2 cups of cooked rice
2 cups of assorted chopped veggies- (peppers, broccoli, carrots, bean sprouts, snow peas, mushrooms, cabbage, etc)
½ a small onion chopped
1 cup of chopped cooked chicken, pork, or beef
2 tablespoons of oil
2-3 tablespoons of gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
3 eggs, beaten

Cook onion and peppers first in oil in a large skillet. Stir in the hot oil over medium heat until softened about 3 minutes. Add the rest of your veggies and stir them frequently. A lid on the pan will help broccoli and carrots steam a little and hurry cooking time along. When your veggies are tender, but not mushy, about 6 – 8 minutes, add the cooked rice and the cooked meat. Stir this into veggies and then add the soy sauce.  Make an empty space in the center of your pan and pour the eggs in. Scramble them and then incorporate them into the rice and veggie mixture. Taste and see if you need more soy sauce.

To freeze, fill 1 quart freezer bags half full. Squeeze out the air and seal. Flatten the bag to a single layer of fried rice. Lay flat in freezer and stack your meals on top of one another for the best way to fill a tiny dorm freezer. This makes the rice easy to break off and heat a single serving.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


First change made in the dining hall.

This past week I was hard at work preparing for the indoor track conference meet, trying to balance between hurdle practice and rest for my injured legs. However, I was also in the process of overcoming more figurative hurdles, gluten free dining in my university's dining hall.

During the winter months, I found myself eating in my room more often than not, relying on my pre made meals that I had prepared at home. The dining hall had options for me, but in all honesty I just didn't have the time to wait for my meals to be prepared separately and it was a lot less stressful to eat what I had in my room. Over the winter months, I saw little change in the dining hall.

With spring, comes new hope. Our dining hall has been without an executive chef for several months now, which is part of the reason little change has been made. The operation is in survival mode. The food committee I am on at school, which consists of the dining hall manager, myself, and two other students, has a large role in the changes being made. The manager asked the other two students and I to be a part of the interview process for the new executive chef. He had it narrowed down to two chefs with very impressive backgrounds.

One of the chefs had a background in college dining halls and was more experienced in that respect. The other had owned her own restaurant (with a gluten free menu) and was more artistic with her approach to food. They were pretty much polar opposites, but both had a lot to offer. As part of the interview, the chefs prepared three dishes for us, an appetizer and two entrees. They had the same ingredients to work with (pork and fish) and it was kind of a Chopped-esque challenge. Also, they had the added challenge of making everything gluten free. Long story short, I had two nights of gourmet meals in the dining hall.

The first chef made a salad with a vinaigrette for the appetizer. His fish had lemon and herbs and was served with roasted red potatoes, carrots, and mini squashes. Lastly, his pork had a sweet ginger and sesame glaze and was served over wild rice with the same vegetables as the fish.

The second chef made a cooked spinach salad (after hearing that I could not have raw fruits or veggies) with caramelized red onions, roasted red pepper, and sautéed mushrooms all over fresh mozzarella slices. Her fish had pistachio and mint pesto and was served over wild rice with carrots and zucchini. Her pork was wrapped in bacon and topped with apples in a light caramel sauce with a hint of cinnamon and was served over blue cheese mashed red potatoes, this was the standout dish by far.

Both chefs completed the tasks well, but the first chef's dishes, although good, were almost forgettable compared to the second chef's. I liked the second chef's interest in starting cooking classes and trips to the farmers market and her artful approach to food, but I also liked the first chef's knowledge of dining hall operation and his warm personality.

It was a nice change to have these meals (that I knew were safe) prepared for me, and also a nice break from the piles of homework that all of my professors decided to dump on me before spring break and a good treat after track practice. As someone who would like to eventually go to culinary school, this was a very interesting experience. It was great to see chefs in action and it was very inspiring to see their work. I look forward to getting to work with one of them when they are hired. I feel like I could learn a lot from both.

I will find out who they hired when I get back to school from break. Both candidates had experience preparing gluten free foods and will be helpful in making changes. I hope to get some procedures in place before the end of the semester, which is drawing near. As I reach the home stretch, I'll need to really kick it in and get thing done. These figurative hurdles are far more difficult than the literal ones, but I am sure my hard work will pay off in both.

As for the conference meet, I placed 1st in the 60m hurdles and 2nd in the 60m dash, breaking the school records in both. Now it's time for some much needed rest for my legs before outdoor season begins in two weeks.

Rockin' the ice bags post-race.

For more on my gluten free college dining experience, check out my article on the NFCA website! Also, be sure to read the other article in the series written by other gf college students!

Gluten Free College Life

Check out these articles that I wrote for several other websites:

Diets in Review
Go Dairy Free

The NFCA is doing a college series with several gluten free college students and recent graduates, which I was lucky enough to be a part of. There's a lot of great information, so make sure to read the other articles there!