Living Gluten-Free in College

By Erika Mahoney

January 30, 2013 Updated Jan 31, 2013 at 12:43 AM EDT

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Imagine walking into a college dining hall and struggling to find something to eat.

For those with Celiac Disease or food allergies, it's not an uncommon situation. It's also something Binghamton University student Kaitlin Voellinger once faced.

In the hustle and bustle of a Binghamton University dining hall, Voellinger said she went straight for the junk food when she was a freshman and sophomore.

"All you see is what's familiar," Voellinger said. "You see the pizza, you see the french fries, and that's what you go for."

But when she started feeling ill, she decided to make a big change junior year.

"Going gluten-free makes me feel vibrant, it makes me feel healthy, it makes me feel full of energy and I really love that."

Cutting out gluten -- a protein found in wheat, barley and rye -- wasn't easy at first. But help from the university's registered dietitian and the new NourishU station made the switch possible, even in a college setting.

"The NourishU Market Fresh station is designed to be fresh and healthy but also gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free and egg-free," said Registered Dietitian Alexa Schmidt.

The station was incorporated into one dining hall during the start of the 2012 school year.

Specialty items like gluten-free breads, bagels and desserts are available in every dining hall. Seperate storage and toasters are used to avoid cross-contamination.

As awareness about Celiac Disease and food allergies grows, more colleges and universities are working to accommodate their students. In some cases, it's not by choice.

In a recent settlement with Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., the U.S. Justice Department ruled the university must offer options for students with Celiac Disease and food allergies in their meal plan.

The agreement in December 2012 said the issue falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Schmidt, and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, recognizes the importance of the agreement, saying it will set a precedent for other colleges and universities.

"To be able to go into a dining hall and just grab a meal next to their friends and just sit down and eat is really important," Schmidt said.

Since Schmidt began working at Binghamton University 10 years ago, she has worked to ensure there are options for every student.

And as the awareness of special diets grows, she hopes to get a NourishU station in every dining hall on campus.

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