Being a student with gluten intolerance is not ‘fashionable’
It can be frustrating, expensive and boring
‘Gluten free’: a phrase often seen in restaurants, supermarkets and hipster cafés, but what does it actually mean? Gluten is a generalised term for proteins found in certain grains, like wheat, rye and barley and gives pizza, pasta and cake that chewy texture we all know and love.
However, not everyone can eat it, if you’re a coeliac or gluten intolerant then your body has an adverse reaction to gluten that you digest. I’m gluten intolerant myself and having to follow a gluten free diet whilst being a students has its ups and downs.
Gluten free food options are a lot better than they were a few years ago. Most supermarkets have a gluten frees section now (holla at Tesco, you win the size contest), and it’s not now just in edgy cafés in Shoreditch where you can find a slice of GF choc fudge cake. The products have improved: pasta no longer swells and bleeds starch when you cook it (disgusting, rest assured), GF pizzas are available in most Italian chain restaurants and all hail M&S for their amazing range of GF ready meals.
I think most gluten intolerant students would agree it’s never nice to have to undo the button on their jeans in that afternoon lecture after too much of that pesto pasta salad for lunch, so it’s great that there are all these options available now.
The cost factor
However, eating gluten free can be so expensive. Prices are shockingly different. We’re talking £3.00 for a loaf of bread or £2.00 for a pack of biscuits . It all totals up at the checkout.
When you see your friend dipping into the reduced section at the supermarket, but you’re left to the pricey gluten free isle, the reality of following this diet as a student does hit. It’s not like we’ve chosen this diet: it has chosen us, the alternative is unpleasant and frankly not an option for many.
The health factor
Gluten free products also usually contain a higher amount of fat and sugar, because let’s face it, without this they would taste pretty crap. Take bread as an example, it is high in sugar and on the whole still tastes like something a medieval peasant would eat.
It’s not what you want when you’re on campus and the choice is between a shitty rock-hard cheese roll or a warm panini from the Print Room. The higher levels can lead to weight gain, and given the pressure that us students feel to stay healthy and trim, this can lead to a lot of worry amongst those following a gluten free diet.
A gluten free London?
The emergence of completely gluten free restaurants and cafés is on the rise in London however. We already have Niché, Beyond Bread and Yorica, to name just a few. Some of the best afternoons can be spent just trying out what London and these sorts of places have to offer. Watch out though, a lot of these places are very expensive, but if you’re ready to part with some (some, or rather, a lot) of your student loan, go for it!
‘Does rice contain gluten?’
People’s awareness can also be frustrating at times, gluten free-ers will not be unfamiliar with questions like ‘can you eat potatoes?’ or phrases like ‘Ah you must miss pizza and pasta so much.’ And let’s not forget our personal favourite, the classic ‘are you doing it to lose weight?’ No, I’m doing it so I don’t have to spend an evening sitting on the toilet tyvm.
Grabbing a post-sesh kebab or making a meal with your flatmates becomes a lot harder if the awareness of your intolerance is not there. The awareness problem also extends to campus: grabbing a quick lunch is a lot harder, since gluten free options are severely limited, unless you’re a gluten free rabbit who likes to eat a salad without croutons or dressing for lunch. UCL, please up your gluten free game on campus.