A coeliac’s advice for eating out at uni

This week marks Coeliac Awareness Week – a week designed to raise awareness about an illness that affects 1 in 70 of the population. There is a lot of confusion around coeliac disease and ‘going gluten free’ so we spoke to UQ Lecturer – and coeliac – Dr Karen Abbey to find out just what gluten is and how the coeliac’s among us can stay healthy.  

Following a coeliac friendly diet can be a challenge while attending university, particularly if you are living away from home or spending a lot of time on campus.

You are no longer under the watchful eye of your parents and need to keep yourself accountable for your dietary needs and health.

It can be tough to maintain a proper diet when you have little or no control over what cafeteria staff prepare (and how they prepare it).  It can be especially hard if it's your first time managing your own finances and preparing your own meals. But with a bit of planning and careful thought, you can survive uni on a gluten-free diet and still eat healthy and tasty meals.  

Some student friendly tips for eating gluten free:

  1. Opt for meats, fruits and vegetables as they are naturally gluten free.
  2. Be careful of cross contamination when eating out or sharing kitchen utensils.
  3. If you’re living at college or with housemates, use a separate toaster.
  4. You should also avoid sharing spreads like butter, jam and honey with your housemates.
  5. Be careful around processed foods and make the effort to read the labels of packaged and processed food. It’s important to read food labels when shopping as ingredients can change.
  6. Use flours such as potato, soy, tapioca, cornmeal, buckwheat and lentil – experiment with your cooking and see what works the best for you.
  7. Soup is your friend – always make your own using gluten free ingredients; it is cheap and delicious! Try adding beans and chickpeas for a protein hit for a fraction of the cost of meat.
  8. To save on your grocery bill, opt for naturally gluten free foods such as rice and potatoes rather than ‘free from’ pastas and noodles.
  9. Invest in a slow-cooker. Just whack everything in there before you go off to lectures and when you return, dinner will be ready.
  10. If in doubt with the safety of the food don’t eat it!

Grocery list

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, triticale (hybrid of wheat), rye, oats, barley and food products that contain any of these grains. Gluten is an important protein as it creates the elasticity in baked products and is often used as a thickening agent.

What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease describes a condition when the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten causing small bowel damage. If a coeliac consumes gluten their bowel can become inflamed and flattened, and this can lead to various gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms.

How has the gluten free diet changed over time?

Most coeliacs prescribe to a gluten free diet but this diet has changed dramatically since it was first diagnosed in the 1950s.

The main change has been the number of food manufacturers making gluten free products. This has seen an explosion of food products which are now available. Coupled with this is the improved quality of these products.  Gluten free bread used to be crumbly and dry - only edible after it was toasted – now it can closely resemble ‘regular’ bread and taste equally as good. Similarly, gluten free pasta used to fall apart in the saucepan - now it’s a close mimic of the pasta most of us grew up loving. A lot has changed and the development of good quality products has made it much easier for families and the hospitality and healthcare sectors to cater for coeliacs.

Of course, eating out can still pose some risks but thankfully a lot of eateries now offer gluten free options. We now have access to a wide range of ready-made gluten-free meals and frozen products making life easier for those living with coeliac disease.

It is important to remember that a lifelong gluten-free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease. A person on a gluten free diet can enjoy a wide and varied diet but it is always important to read labels on packaged and prepared foods.

Buckwheat pancakes


Last updated:
20 March 2017