Letter to the Editor: Alexis Anderson

What can you do as a student at Concordia College to help your fellow Cobbers that have been diagnosed with a gluten-related disorder? First: be informed. Understanding the characteristics of celiac disease, wheat allergy, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity will enable you to differentiate between fact and fiction in the media regarding gluten-related diets. Second: be careful to not contaminate the food served in Anderson Commons. Avoid mixing up serving utensils and touching the serving utensils to foods on your plate. When you notice that one food has spilled into another, be sure to mention it to a cook or student worker. These are several little steps that you can take to make it easier for students at Concordia struggling with a wheat or gluten-related disorder to feel safe and comfortable eating in Anderson Commons.

With all the hype surrounding gluten in today’s media, it is helpful to understand what exactly gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that provides the elasticity and stickiness that maintains a food’s shape. Gluten is found in pizza, pasta, baked goods, breads, as well as in beer, sauces, and soups. Gluten is often used as an additive so it can be found in many hidden sources, such as processed meats, soy sauce, medication, and even Play-Doh. Because gluten can be found in such a wide variety of sources, avoiding it can be a challenge. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, however, avoiding gluten is a necessity.

Celiac disease is a genetic auto-immune disorder that affects one in every 133 people. It is triggered when the protein gluten is ingested. When someone who has celiac disease consumes gluten, the immune system recognizes it as a kind of foreign invader and attacks the small intestine, which damages the intestinal villi. As a result of this damage, people with celiac disease are unable to properly absorb nutrients into the blood- stream. Nutrient deficiencies often develop along with a variety of other problems including some cancers, osteoporosis, in- fertility, and other autoimmune disorders.

The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict, lifelong gluten free diet. People with celiac disease must be especially careful to avoid gluten and any cross contamination with gluten because no more than 20 parts per million can be safely ingested. This means that even a bread crumb will cause damage. People with celiac disease must use toasters that are reserved solely for gluten free bread, separate peanut butter jars to avoid bread crumbs, and they must avoid foods that are fried in the same fryer as breaded or gluten-containing items.

Wheat allergy is sometimes confused with celiac disease, but the two are quite different. Individuals with a wheat allergy present an allergic response to the proteins found in wheat, while individuals with celiac disease present an autoimmune response when gluten is ingested. Allergic reactions to wheat can result from eating wheat and, in some cases, by inhaling wheat flour. For those with celiac disease, however, an immune response to gluten only occurs when a food containing gluten is ingested.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), more commonly referred to as gluten intolerance, differs from celiac disease in several key ways. For one, the intestinal damage brought on by celiac disease is not seen in those with NCGS. Further- more, NCGS is not genetic and the only way to diagnose NCGS is by an exclusion diet that removes gluten from the diet for a period of time before adding it back into the diet to assess an individual’s symptoms.

Now that you know a little bit more about celiac disease, wheat allergy, and NCGS, you can do your part to ensure that your fellow Cobbers who have such disorders feel just as safe and comfortable eating in Anderson Commons as everyone else. While many of the foods served in Anderson Commons are naturally gluten free, contamination is a concern for some students on campus so any and all efforts to keep food safe for everyone are much appreciated. Know that, for those needing to follow a gluten free diet, there is a wide variety of additional gluten free choices available, including bread, pas- ta, pizza, granola, and desserts. Also, the dietitians on staff are more than willing to answer any questions and provide assistance when needed.

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