Arts & Culture

Gluten-free lifestyle more than just a fad

As gluten-free diets grow more prevalent, Dining Services and restaurants increase offerings

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2013

Juice cleanses, vegetarianism, veganism. Atkins, Dukan, Paleo. Fad diets — trendy eating patterns that often involve cutting out specific food groups — have come and gone over the years. Though not always strictly designed for weight loss, most are a part of efforts to attain superior health through disciplined restriction of a particular nutrient.

But the gluten-free lifestyle, which has become much more visible in recent years, is more than just a fad. Some pursue a gluten-free diet for health reasons, while others do so because of dietary sensitivities ranging from mild intolerance to celiac disease.

Brown Dining Services offers a variety of accommodations to students interested in avoiding gluten, including providing pre-prepared meals and a recently installed “allergen room” in the Sharpe Refectory with frozen foods, bagels and bread, said Adam Hoffman ’14, a Herald contributing writer, whose sensitivity to gluten compromises his immune system in the long term.

The Allergen-Friendly Kitchenette was established in response to student feedback that access to basic gluten-free starches would make eating in dining halls easier for students with sensitivities, Gina Guiducci, Brown Dining dietician, wrote in an email to The Herald.

To gain access to the “allergen room,” students must register with Student and Employee Accessibility Services, meet with a dietary specialist and present confirmation from a doctor, Hoffman added.

The Gate offers gluten-free pizza crust, and the Blue Room has gluten-free bread for sandwiches, he said.

Emily Breuer ’16 has been a diagnosed celiac for six years. When she came to Brown, she said she found limited food options. The ingredients list found online and in dining halls across campus is often incomplete — for example, a sauce is sometimes simply listed as “sauce,” she said.

Charlotte Delpit ’15 eats wheat-free due to a parasitic infection that destroyed her ability to process the nutrient, she said. This differs slightly from gluten-free, as gluten can be found in some non-wheat products.

She does not find the ingredients list to be helpful or organized, she said.

But Guiducci wrote that Dining Services identifies gluten — in addition to the top eight other allergens — on dining hall menus.

Living gluten-free can be a bonding experience, Hoffman said. Though he does not eat with them, he has met other gluten-free students while getting lunch in the Ratty’s allergen room, he said.

Delpit said there is no defined culture associated with living gluten-free at Brown. Despite this, there has been a notable increase in exposure and curiosity surrounding gluten-free foods, Guiducci wrote.

Sarah Schade ’15, who eats at Finlandia Co-op, said she went off meal plan for financial reasons. But after joining the co-op, she was exposed to the gluten-free diet, which she has followed since the summer, she said.

Though undiagnosed, Schade said she most likely has irritable bowel syndrome, which she has found can be remedied through a gluten-free diet. She said she exchanges recipes with others and shares their excitement over newly discovered gluten-free starches, especially among her mother’s friends.

Hoffman also noted that some athletes have restricted gluten intake in order to improve performance. Renowned tennis champion Novak Djokovic credits his success to a gluten-free diet, 60 Minutes reported last year.

Roxanne Alaghband ’15, a member of the Brown fencing team, said she feels more energetic since restricting her gluten intake. Her body has a limited capacity to absorb protein, a syndrome that is magnified by gluten consumption, she said.

Many restaurants on College Hill provide gluten-free options. Wickenden Street’s Abyssinia and Amy’s Place both offer gluten-free bread, Schade said.

Wildflour Vegan Bakery in Pawtucket, The Duck and Bunny and AS220 all present gluten- and wheat-free options, Delpit said.

“You don’t have to be gluten-free to be healthy,” she said. “It just helps sometimes.”