UNH going gluten-free

By Lindsay Gross
On April 25, 2014

Students who suffer from celiac disease and other gluten intolerances are finding more options than ever at all three University of New Hampshire dining halls. 

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye and barley. It is what keeps pizza dough stretchy and bread dough soft. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, celiac disease is one of the most well known gluten intolerances and affects one in every 141 people in the United States. When someone who has celiac disease consumes gluten, it causes an immune response that can damage their intestines and causes problems when trying to absorb nutrients. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, scientists have recently been studying another type of gluten intolerance. There are people who are having similar symptoms to celiac disease when they consume gluten, except they are not having the damaging intestine inflammation.  

With celiac disease and other gluten intolerances on the rise, UNH was tasked with figuring out ways to keep their students who have an inability to digest gluten safe while eating at the dining halls. 

"We started offering gluten-free items in spring of 2006," said Rochelle L'Italien, a registered dietitian. "Two students with celiac came to talk to me about options. We had the little mini dorm fridges in the dining halls with a few products, but back then there wasn't as big as a demand." 

Since 2006, UNH Dining has added many more products, special equipment, full size fridges and even an online ordering system for students and staff who have a gluten intolerance.

UNH has started offering the option of using separate pans and utensils at the stir-fry and omelette stations. This is to help prevent cross contamination of gluten getting onto the plate of someone who has an intolerance. 

"We have recently expanded our gluten friendly stations," L'Italien said. "We now have fully stocked refrigerators with assortments of gluten-free products. We also have dedicated equipment like a panini grill, toaster, knife and a cutting board." 

Some of the products that are found at the gluten friendly stations are dry cereals, granola, pasta, muffins, breads, crackers, desserts, individually portioned peanut butter, cream cheese, jelly, maple syrup, salad dressings and more. 

"Peanut butter is a gluten-free item on its own but when we are dealing with a student who has an allergy, we have to take many precautions," L'Italien said. "Someone who doesn't have an allergy and wants a peanut butter sandwich would spread the peanut butter on their piece of wheat bread causing cross contamination for students with allergies. It's the small things we have to watch for." 

To help make decisions about food, people can utilize an online dining menu via the UNH Dining website. The daily menus are uploaded every morning and have all the information someone with allergies or intolerances would need. Next to every food item, it lists what potential allergens it has or doesn't have, and there is also an option to click on the food and see a full list of ingredients from the company. 

UNH is also offering a meal ordering system for students and staff. People with allergies and intolerances can call in orders for lunch and dinner and pick them up when they enter the dining halls. Students and staff have the choice of picking what they want in their meals online. An example meal could be grilled chicken, rice and a type of vegetable. 

"When someone places their order, everyone gets it," L'Italien said. "We make sure that management, the chefs and others get the order so everyone knows to use designated equipment." 

Some of the gluten-free brands that UNH uses are Udi's, Annie's and Vans. While there may be many brands to choose from, UNH Dining constantly has to watch the cost of the food. 

According to Cheryl Krantz, UNH Dining assistant manager, 80 loaves of regular multigrain bread cost $1.55 per loaf while for Udi's gluten-free bread, six to 10 loaves cost $7.44 per loaf. 

With gluten-free food gaining popularity and being a specialized food, the price is rising. 

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, gluten-free sales reached more than $2.6 billion by the end of 2010 and are now expected to exceed more than $5 billion by 2015.

In the future, UNH Dining hopes to have even more gluten-free options in the dining halls and wants to try to stop the problem of cross-contamination. The university also hopes to have more gluten-free options in the cafés and the bookstore. 


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