When grocery shopping it’s unlikely the first thing you look for on a product label is wheat flour, hydrolyzed wheat protein or barley. For anyone on a gluten-free diet, it’s a priority.
Gluten—a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and some other grains—is off limits for those with Celiac disease.
Alaina Mantle, ArtSci ’13, has followed a gluten-free diet for the past three years since being diagnosed with the condition.
Mantle said before knowing she was gluten-sensitive, she would consistently experience physical reactions to common foods.
“I always felt really sick as if I had the stomach flu, and I tried eliminating different things from my diet,” she said. “I stopped eating gluten and magically became better.”
After receiving her diagnosis, Mantle said she faced difficulties living gluten-free.
“It’s not bad once you’re used to it, but [gluten] is hidden in everything,” she said. “Going out to restaurants sucks and things like going to a cottage is hard.”
Because there’s an increasing awareness of Celiac disease, it’s becoming more common for restaurants to accommodate gluten-free diets, Mantle said.
“Gluten is actually recognized now. Before people wouldn’t know what it is,” she said, adding that salads without dressing, chicken, and nachos are go-to options.
In first year, Mantle personally spoke to staff at Leonard Dining Hall to ensure her food was gluten-free.
“I just went up to the chefs and talked to them, and every day I came they would put special gluten-free sauce on my food.”
While living in residence, Mantle also purchased her own food at places like Tara’s Natural Foods on Princess Street.
“I had a mini fridge with my own foods which I could eat at night, since there was nowhere to go,” she said.
While there may now be more options for those with Celiac disease, not all of these options are tasty.
“The gluten-free bread usually sucks,” Mantle said. “I’m used to the taste … but people think it tastes kind of funny. The hamburger buns are always disgusting.”
According to Heather McMillan, a dietitian with Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health, gluten is often used as an additive in foods. She said it’s important for those following a gluten-free diet to be diligent when eating out.
“Vegetables, meats and rice are all gluten-free … it’s sauces that get in the way. You always want to tell the waiter you need a gluten-free meal,” she said.
Gluten-free eaters need to be extra careful to avoid cross-contamination because gluten-free products are often cooked in the same oil and dishes as foods that contain gluten. Even if a serving utensil is cross-contaminated, it can cause physical sickness for someone suffering from Celiac disease.
“It is often hidden or found as an additive in many other products … things like beer, soy sauce, deli meats,” McMillan said.
While people who don’t have Celiac disease sometimes turn to a gluten-free lifestyle as a popular fad diet, McMillan said she wouldn’t recommend it.
“You can follow a healthy diet if you’re gluten-free but you require a lot more planning and extra work.”
With caution and determination, avoiding gluten is possible on Queen’s campus. The Queen’s residence dining halls offer gluten-free breads, baked goods, pasta, dessert and cereals. Those on a gluten-free diet might have to lay off the beer at Queen’s Pub but can still snack on bar favourites, such as nachos made with corn chips, or indulge in vodka-based drinks, since vodka is made from potatoes, not wheat.
In addition, Common Ground offers several new salads and fruits, which accommodate a gluten-free diet.
Gluten substitutions such as rice pasta and gluten-free bread can be purchased at many grocery stores.
Local restaurants like Harper’s Burger Bar and Woodenheads also provide gluten-free buns and pizzas on their menus.
What is Celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a medical condition in which the small intestine is damaged by gluten and the body cannot absorb nutrients.
An estimated one in 133 Canadians suffers from Celiac disease.
Parents, siblings and children of a person with Celiac disease have about a 10 per cent chance of also having the condition.
Before diagnosis, those with Celiac disease often show symptoms that include cramps, anemia and chronic pain. Blood screening tests and an endoscopic small bowel biopsy are used to diagnose the condition.
Following a permanent gluten-free diet is the only available treatment. However, grain substitutions are essential to maintain a healthy diet.
Grain products include iron, zinc and magnesium and are a key source of fiber. Rice pasta, quinoa and buckwheat are some substitutions that individuals with Celiac disease can eat to
ensure these vitamins and minerals are included in their diets.
Source: Canadian Celiac Association at celiac.ca.
Foods to avoid
Here are some unexpected dietary restrictions encountered by individuals with Celiac disease.
Because beer is made from barley, it’s off limits to those on a gluten-free diet. Vodka-based alcoholic drinks are one possible substitution because vodka is made from a potato base.
While salads are safe, dressings can be problematic as they could contain wheat flour, wheat starch or hydrolyzed wheat protein.
Communion wafers and matzah
The dietary restrictions for those with gluten sensitivity extend to religious rites.
Veggie burgers often contain seasonings made from hydrolyzed wheat protein, wheat flour or wheat starch.
Flavoured teas and coffees
Whether it’s hazelnut coffee or peppermint tea, these beverages often contain barley malt flavouring.
Unless it’s homemade, soup often contains wheat flour, barley or hydrolyzed wheat protein.
Source: Canadian Celiac Association at celiac.ca.
48-hour gluten-free diet trial
As an admitted carboholic, I feared the worst in a 48-hour gluten-free trial. Here is a breakdown of the gluten-free foods I ate during that period.
Burger with gluten-free bun
The difference in taste was definitely noticeable but after the initial shock, it wasn’t so bad. As long as you’re not eating the bread by itself, it serves as a fine substitution.
While I missed the taste of classic cheese pizza, the actual taste of a gluten-free pizza didn’t alarm me. Just expect much more emphasis on the tomato flavor rather than the traditional doughy crust you might be used to.
According to the Canadian Celiac Association, oats can be incorporated into a gluten-free diet with care. Read the label and make sure the ingredients are safe. Oatmeal is a versatile option since it can be covered in fruit and spices for additional flavour.
I’m proud to say my only cheat came in the form of a chocolate chunk cookie, which I shamefully devoured after momentarily forgetting my newfound dietary restrictions.
From my experience, I see how those on a gluten-free diet can be forced to make healthier choices, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Being forced to lay off the carbs isn’t so bad for the scale either.
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