Menus changing to accomodate gluten-free diet, lifestyles

Since July 2012, Karina Simonis has cut all foods like pizza, bagels and fried chicken out of her diet. She isn’t trying to lose weight – after noticing that many different types of food were making her sick, Simonis was diagnosed as gluten-intolerant.

“It’s hard because I went my whole life eating bread and pasta, and suddenly had to cut it out of my diet,” Simonis said. “I didn’t realize how sick it was making me until I took it out.”

Simonis, a sophomore majoring in musical theatre, is part of a statistic that is quickly rising. Celiac disease, a condition in which the body rejects food containing gluten, is considered the most under-diagnosed common disease today and affects approximately one in 133 people, according to the Gluten Intolerance Group website.

Sheena Gregg, assistant director of nutrition education and health services in the department of health and wellness, said gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This can be problematic because many common foods contain it.

“People who are gluten-intolerant needed to be educated to learn what substitutions they can make to maintain a balanced diet,” Gregg said.

Simonis’ immune system has also been affected by the change in her diet. She said she gets sick more easily and often since cutting out gluten. She blames the lack of nutrients in the foods she eats.

“It’s hard to eat a well-balanced meal now,” Simonis said. “You can eat healthy, but compared to a well-rounded meal, it’s not balanced. There aren’t a lot of complex sugars or carbs.”

Simonis, whose diet consists of a lot of potatoes, rice and grilled chicken, said finding food to eat on campus and in dining halls is difficult because most foods contain gluten, including the vegetarian and vegan options.

“Vegan pastas all have gluten, and almost everything has wheat,” Simonis said. “Most chicken is breaded. Hamburgers are on buns and tacos are on tortillas. Pizza crust also contains gluten. I always just eat vegetables and rice.”

(See also "Bama Dining supports Meatless Mondays campaign")

But a gluten-free diet isn’t just for those intolerant to it anymore. Gregg said many of her clients ask about going gluten-free as a way to lose weight, and that it is quickly becoming a fad diet. But Gregg warned against cutting out gluten completely if you do not have to.

“I think when people hear about gluten-free, they think it just cuts out bread products,” Gregg said. “It becomes problematic when they cut out foods that contain gluten but they don’t try to replenish with carbs that the brain needs.”

If someone cuts out those carbohydrates, they risk becoming malnourished, Gregg said. Foods containing gluten are also fortified with vitamins and minerals that we need.

“I usually tell them to not pursue going gluten-free for weight loss purposes,” Gregg said. “They can still include gluten in their calories with things like wheat bread and wheat pasta. We can find healthier sources of gluten-products. It’s not necessary to cut it out of your life.”

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