Gluten-free group forms on campus


by Kelly Gerdts

For those who want to learn more about a gluten free lifestyle, Simpson College has a new group on campus for people who are interested or have Celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

“(Gluten) is a protein that is found in wheat, rye and barley,” Assistant Professor of English Lauren LaFauci said. “It’s a complex protein that is difficult for many people to digest properly.”

Gluten is found in a majority of processed food and anything made with wheat including bread, pizza, cake and cookies.

Most of the current members of this group have been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. According to LaFauci, people with gluten intolerance cannot process gluten. Their bodies reject it almost like a toxin and their bodies create antibodies that attack it.

The amount of gluten a person can handle varies from individual to individual. Some people can tolerate a small amount of gluten in their diets while others cannot have any.

People with Celiac disease are among those who cannot have any gluten and if they do, the repercussions can be more severe. The villi, projections that line the inner wall of the small intestine, can be damaged, causing a disruption in digestion and malnourishment.

Most people are diagnosed with gluten intolerance because it can be determined with a blood or stool test while celiac disease can only be diagnosed with a biopsy taken during a colonoscopy, which is a surgical procedure. It can be difficult to diagnose Celiac disease after being diagnosed with gluten intolerance because in order for the test to work the patient must be eating gluten at the time of the colonoscopy.

The idea for the group came to LaFauci when a student mentioned last fall that they could not eat gluten.

“When you are diagnosed it can be a challenging lifestyle choice, and so this student and I said ‘oh, this might be a good group to have at Simpson to share resources for living in central Iowa with gluten intolerance and celiac disease,'” LaFauci said. “I sent out an e-mail to the students and got quite a bit of response, and we had our first meeting Feb. 9.”

At their first meeting students decided what they wanted their group’s goals to be.

“So far the group is meeting as a support system to others with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance,” sophomore Betsy Ryan said. “We hope to bring more awareness to campus about what gluten is and how serious a gluten intolerance can be.”

Members of the group will share recipes, their experience with which restaurants are gluten free friendly, what grocery stores carry the best gluten free selection and what products are best.

Simpson’s gluten free options are very limited and what is offered is questionable.

“Pfeiffer does offer gluten free foods, but it is hard to tell whether or not they are contaminated or certified gluten free as they are being prepared in such a large kitchen,” Ryan said. “Because of the limited options, students with a gluten intolerance do a lot of their own grocery shopping and cooking.”

The members of this group are planning a potluck for their next meeting where they will share dishes that are free of gluten and casein, a protein found in dairy products. Anyone with a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease is welcome to join the group as well as anyone who is interested in learning more about these conditions and the lifestyle.

“I just joined the group so I could learn more about gluten and about healthy eating options,” junior Kelsey Tulon said.

Professor LaFauci said that anyone that wants to get involved in the group is welcome to e-mail her for more information.