Living Gluten-Free at College in the UK

By Saara Aziz 

Beginning life as a gluten-free student can start off to be quite challenging – but it doesn’t have to be!

Before I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I lived happily munching on pizza, McDonald’s and take-out food because my cooking abilities stretched from toasting some bread to ordering a take-out pizza. So you can imagine my panic when I was diagnosed with celiac disease and had to learn how to cook gluten-free food – fast!

I was so scared and confused about cooking that I lost a lot of weight, felt tired in classes and just felt really unwell. Everything I tried, I burned. Everything I made tasted horrible, which didn’t do great on my ever dwindling confidence. But I never gave up, and through every gluten-free cupcake I made that were either hard as a rock or burned to a crisp, I kept trying until I became confident. I believe everyone can cook; it’s just having the confidence that makes it happen.

Gluten-free chickpea burger

I started my blog to show others that you don’t have to be Gordon Ramsey to rustle up some gluten-free meals. I also like to find the simplest and cheapest way to make things. For those who aren’t confident like I was, don’t feel daunted when you see a gluten-free recipe. I like to show that, if I can cook these recipes, then anyone can. I even show others when I make something wrong. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve tried to make gluten-free tortilla wraps, but I’ve finally found a way and they’ve become quite popular!

Being the only student in my dorms to have celiac disease did make me feel a little isolated. I was worried about telling my housemates about my diagnosis, just in case they treated me differently – but that was far from the truth. Telling my housemates allowed them to give me support when things got too much and understand why they shouldn’t use my butter (because of cross-contact).

Gluten-free orange flavored cupcakes

When I told my housemates and university friends, I was surprised by how interested they became. They would always tell me of places they’d heard of, seen or been to that catered to celiac disease needs, plus they would be there to keep me sane, help out with gluten-free recipes and make me feel less alone. Plus, I found that when I met people for the first time and told them about my celiac disease, it proved to be a great conversation starter!

I’ve also found that celiac disease is getting more ‘well known’ here in the U.K. More and more restaurants are catering to us gluten-free people. For example, we have a huge Italian chain here called Bella Italia which now offers gluten-free pizza and pasta! On top of that, huge supermarket chains such as Sainsburys and Asda (which is the U.K. equivalent to Walmart) now offer their own branded gluten-free food, which will includes pasta, muesli, bread and pizza. Plus, they stock my all-time favorite brand of pizza by a company called Dietary Specials. It’s so tasty that even my friends who don’t have to eat gluten-free share it with me!

We also have a great charity here called Coeliac U.K., which offers newly diagnosed people (and their members) a huge book called The Food and Drink directory. It contains a list of every food that’s suitable for people with celiac disease from every supermarket. It’s become my life saver at times and saves others from getting worried when reading labels.