Posted at 1 p.m. March 2, 2017

The high cost of gluten

Tara Halfhill Photo Editor

As someone who has several people in my immediate family suffering from Celiac Disease or Gluten Intolerance, it took some time for us to adjust to the new way we were all doing a lot of things.

My 3-year-old nephew, Corbin, was first. Let me tell you that little boy is a trooper. Not only is he living with a condition that could have killed him had it went gone longer untreated, he is also on his second year of living with Type 1 Diabetes. This type of diabetes is called “childhood diabetes.” It was easy to see that there was something wrong with him. He had a giant, hard belly that would never get smaller and arms that were at least half the size that they should have been for a kid his age. Soon after, we learned that my niece, Corbin’s big sister, Ella, also has Celiac.

Ella grew up in the dance studio and played every sport that was available to her. It was harder to see that something was wrong with her than it was with Corbin. While she was rail thin, she didn’t look unhealthy, just like another tiny athlete.

“When I look at the severity of this disease, I have to wonder why Gluten products are still the cheaper option. This disease costs people a lot when it comes to their health, and yet the products that they can have are more expensive.”

My grandmother, Joan, also has it. Joan has always been a thin woman, and with her older age, she has stayed that way – determined to never weigh more than 100 pounds. She was diagnosed around the same time as the other two.

Joan and Ella have both come to stay at my apartment here in Cheyenne at different times and there are precautions which must be taken. The fear of cross-contamination between your regular meat and veggies while cooking is nothing compared to gluten cross-contamination. They are both so sensitive to it that things have to be washed before cooking, just in case there is any residue from other cooking. There are specific types of everything that can and cannot be cooked with, and the slightest little bit can cause their bodies to become violently ill.

Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye. The small intestine contains tissue called villi that are what absorbs nutrients. In people who have Celiac, the intake of gluten damages the villi and this prevents nutrients from being absorbed. This causes frequent stomachaches, and that is what directed my sister to take the kids in to get checked.

The Celiac Foundation defines Celiac as “a serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.” According to the Celiac Foundation, statistically 1 in 100 people are affected worldwide while two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed.

When I look at the severity of this disease, I have to wonder why gluten products are still the cheaper option. This disease costs people a lot when it comes to their health, and yet the products that they can have are more expensive. Catering to the needs of my family when they have stayed with me upped my grocery bill by buying the double-price, half-sized bag of gluten-free flour. The US National Library of Medicine National institutes of Medicine website lists the results of a study done to compare the price of gluten-free groceries to regular groceries with a difference of 242 percent.

So, why are they so much more expensive? Threebakers.com says that there is the cost of having the production areas cleaned thoroughly and regularly to prevent cross-contamination, certifications required to be classified as gluten-free, and what is described as high cost/low competition. High/low competition means the product is produced as a high cost item and has little competition.

So, where does that leave students attending LCCC who can’t afford to pay for a meal card and still buy gluten-free food at an outrageous cost? Jacob Menéndez, Sodexo’s general manager, has been with the school for roughly a year and a half, and says that around a year ago, they started to have options available for the health needs of the students, including gluten-free options as well as vegan and peanut allergy options. Menéndez said all of the products that are gluten-free are labeled and include pizza crusts, pastas, breads and brownies that are available in the coffee shop. There are other foods that are available as gluten-free by request, and they are currently working on getting a fryer converted over to be able to be dedicated to the gluten-free crowd because the number of people that suffer from this is continually rising. Menéndez said, “we try to have all of the needs met.”

This leaves me, personally, with some hope that people, and companies, are actually striving to create a healthy environment for people that didn’t just wake up one day and say, “hmm, I think I’ll have a gluten allergy today, dying from a crappy small intestine sounds fun.”


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