When Rene’e Gallison’s father bet her $50 that she couldn’t go without eating gluten for a week, she happily accepted. A week without pizza and bread seemed like a piece of cake.
What the Mills College junior didn’t expect, however, was that she’d stick to the lifestyle, eventually losing 40 lbs.
It’s been three years, and the 23-year-old is still eating a gluten-free diet. Not that she has to nix favorite foods such as pizza and pasta.
With people increasingly going gluten-free, alternative choices are popping up.
But what is gluten and why are people avoiding it?
Gluten is a type of protein that appears in wheat, barley, rye and oats; these grains are often ground into flour, which makes up common foods including bread and cereal. Gluten reacts with yeast, making focaccia fluffy and donuts doughy.
But this common ingredient may come at a cost. According to Dr. Dana Q. Pletcher of healthdocs.org, one in 30 people are intolerant to gluten; their bodies have trouble breaking down and absorbing the protein. Symptoms may range from subtle stomachaches to severe nausea.
Gallison said that before the bet with her dad, she’d often feel sick without knowing why.
“I was getting a lot of stomach aches and so I researched it,” Gallison said. “Since going gluten-free, I’ve had no stomach pains. I feel like I have more energy; my focus is better.”
And Gallison isn’t the only Mills student opting for alternatives.
Mills’ food service Bon Appetit is offering dishes that omit gluten, using alternatives such as rice flour and xanthan gum to replace the ingredient. The Tea Shop always has gluten-free bread available for sandwiches and Founders occasionally offers alternatives such as gluten-free pasta and brownies.
Additionally, Bon Appetit marks which foods are gluten-free at Founders Commons, Café Suzie and the Tea Shop.
“For every meal there are always gluten-free options,” said Bon Appetit general manager Jason Landau. “We recreated the menu to have a lot more gluten-free options.”
“Gluten-free has become more and more prominent (here at Mills),” Landau said. “The chefs went through quite a bit of training on what is gluten-free.”
Bon Appetit executive chef Jaime Dominguez said he has been focusing on adding more gluten-free options to Mills’ menus since he first began working here a year and a half ago.
“My priority is to offer whole grains and veggies that are in season,” Dominguez said. “Since day one I started focusing on gluten-free.”
For instance, Dominguez said next week’s menu includes cabbage roles stuffed with quinoa, a gluten-free grain rich in protein.
Junior Olivia Stame, who became gluten-free last June, eats frequently at Founders. Stame faces another obstacle besides avoiding gluten: she’s been vegetarian since age seven.
“It’s been hard at Mills, especially because I’m vegetarian,” Stame said. “They offer a lot of gluten-free meat products.”
Landau said Bon Appetit is constantly trying to accommodate all different dietary restrictions however.
“There are some students who are vegan or vegetarian and gluten free, so options like quinoa are good for those students,” Landau said.
Stame said that she was able to eat at Founders, though, looking for common staples to eat.
“It’s easy when they have rice and beans,” Stame said.
Landau said Bon Appetit encourages student with dietary restrictions to communicate with food services.
“I meet with students all the time who have food allergies; we encourage them to do so,” Landau said. “They come in and we discuss the menu and ingredients.”
Sophomore Brittany Watkins, who has been gluten-free since age 13, said she has communicated through comment cards available at all of Mills’ eateries.
“I had to write a comment card for Founders saying that you can’t label couscous or oats as gluten-free and to be mindful that some gluten-free people are vegetarian,” Watkins, 25, said.
Landau said that Bon Appetit is constantly working on options for all students and also focusing on making sure that the food tastes good at the end of the day.
“The chefs are just very cognizant about keeping flavors simple,” Landau said. “We have really good chefs; some of them have been chefs for 15 years.”
Looking to dine out off Campus? Here are some gluten-free restaurants in the East Bay.
A.) Mills College
B.) Mariposa Baking
What: a 100% gluten-free bakery selling goods including bagels, pizza crusts and cinnamon rolls
Where: 5427 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Contact: (510) 595-0955 or www.mariposabaking.com
C.) Good Chemistry Baking
What: a 100% gluten-free bakery selling products including baguettes, biscuits and cookies
Where: 3249 Grand Ave., Oakland
Contact: (510) 350-7190 or www.goodchemistrybaking.com
D.) MLK Café
What: an Ethiopian/American restaurant that offers gluten-free pizza
Where: 3860 MLK Jr .Way, Oakland
Contact: (510) 450-0600
E.) Pizza Rustica
What: an Italian café that offers gluten-free pizza
Where: 5422 College Ave., Oakland
Contact: (510) 654-1601 or www.caferustica.com
F.) Fine Feather Café
What: a vegan bakery that offers gluten-free options for all products including cakes, macaroons and scones
Where: 1080 Stanford Ave., Emeryville
Contact: (928) 499-7295 or www.finefeathercafe.com
G.) Sfoof’s Woofle Café
What: a casual café that serves gluten-free waffles and Panini
Where: 2554 Bancroft Ave., Berkeley
Contact: (510) 548-0118
H.) Saturn Café
What: a vegetarian café that offers a gluten-free menu including nachos and quesadillas
Where: 2175 Allston Way, Berkeley
Contact: (510) 845-8505 or www.saturncafe.com