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Gluten-free options on rise, unnecessary for those not intolerant

Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 07:01

gluten free

Caroline Geiling / The Tufts Daily


Developing medical technologies have helped nutritionists design diets for people with food intolerances, but many confuse these meal recommendations, like eating gluten-free, as recipes for weight loss.

Equating gluten-free and healthy food is not accurate, according to Tricia Thompson (N ’91), a registered dietician who focuses on gluten-free diets. Some gluten-free options are high in fat and sugar, and often low in fiber, Thompson wrote in an article published in the Tufts Nutrition Magazine. 

Tufts Dining Services Nutrition Specialist Julie Lampie, also a registered dietitian who is responsible for making arrangements for students with dietary restrictions or food intolerances, agreed with Thompson’s statement. 

“I try to dissuade students who just want to follow a gluten-free diet for weight loss,” Lampie said. 

Thompson underscored that a gluten-free diet will not automatically lead to weight loss, and said that gluten is not harmful to those who are not medically diagnosed as sensitive to it. 

For students with medical reasons to avoid gluten, Tufts offers an array of dining options. Both junior Alexandra Bukowski and sophomore Emma Boyd suffer from forms of gluten intolerance.

“If they didn’t have the fridge, I wouldn’t be able to eat in the dining halls.” Boyd said. “I’d be eating salad every day — salad and rice.”

The term “gluten intolerance,” encompasses a range of disorders, including celiac disease, which damages the small intestine upon contact with gluten, constraining the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Those with celiac disease have certain antibodies that cause the affliction, while gluten sensitivity is a term used for those who experience celiac symptoms, but lack these antibodies. For both cases, a lifelong gluten-free diet is the only known cure. 

According to the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness, 18 million Americans suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity — six times the amount of celiac sufferers.

“For people that are intolerant, there’s a lot of fatigue, digestive issues

 changes in mood, things like that,” said Boyd, who has a gluten sensitivity. “It was a couple of months of realizing, ‘I feel sick, but I don’t know why’

 it attacks your immune system, so I was getting sick all the time and what not.”

Gluten intolerance can range from mild to extreme sensitivity, according to Bukowski, a junior who has celiac disease. 

“I’m not as sensitive as other people are.” Bukowski said. “My second cousin was diagnosed and she couldn’t even inhale airborne flour.”

According to Bukowski, the cards in the dining hall that list ingredients and allergens for regular food items are helpful, but the refrigerator dedicated to gluten-free alternatives has been most helpful to her dietary needs.

“I rave about it to all of my friends,” Bukowski said. “The stuff [in the gluten-free fridge] is so good that they needed to put a lock on it and give every gluten-free student a key, because non-gluten free students were taking food out of there.”

Lampie discussed the array of options that Tufts tries to provide its students, including bread substitutes for bagels, wraps, pizza shells, hamburger rolls, whole grain and white bread and baked goods, including cookies, muffins and biscotti.

“[Gluten-free options] are so much easier and healthier and tastier than they used to be,” Lampie said.

In response to those who want to use the gluten-free diet as a weight loss tactic, an energy booster or simply a healthier choice, Lampie said she has advised students against eliminating gluten from their diets. 

“There’s no reason; [if] I’m not gluten sensitive, I’m not a celiac

 It can be a limiting diet,” Lampie said. 

Lampie offers keys to the gluten-free fridge to students who want to try the diet, but only if they feel as though they are suffering from symptoms of intolerance such as discomfort or loss of appetite.

“I made a decision because of the literature that [says] there is definitely a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and we’ve made that key available to anyone who is requesting it based on the desire to follow a gluten-free diet,” Lampie said. “[There are] about forty students who have keys, ... [and I] touch base with them a few times each semester to try and see whether there are any challenges with the inventory.”

According to Bukowski and Boyd, Dining Services’ have remained highly aware of students’ dietary needs.

“They’re really responsive,” Bukowski said. “Slowly, they take students’ advice. There were a couple of us that were craving pasta, [and] every Wednesday since then, there’s been [gluten-free] pasta in Dewick.”

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