The magical land of gluten-free cuisine is as enchanting as it is heartbreakingly disappointing.  When I first became aware of my gluten intolerance several years ago, I was devastated.  I thought that I would have to live without pasta and meatballs, fluffy chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting and those perfect Ritz crackers with a chunk of smoked Gouda.  Obviously, my worries were misguided, but still, avoiding something as common as gluten does not come without a struggle.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye (no whiskey for you — sorry), acting as a binding agent to improve the cohesion of ingredients and the retention of water. However, it negatively affects people with celiac disease as well as those with a general intolerance.

Although there are a number of symptoms, the effect that this protein has on your digestive system can affect the health of your entire body.  If you are diagnosed with either issue or strongly suspect gluten-related health problems, avoiding foods with gluten can be a pain, but I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so.

Unlike other dietary lifestyles, being gluten-free is something you must fully and completely commit to.  There can be absolutely no cheating, no withdrawals and no intentional ignorance.  Gluten molecules can remain in your digestive system for weeks after they are consumed, and even the slightest ingested amount can taint your system.  Hence, it is vital to avoid any contamination and untrustworthy products.

Since being diagnosed with gluten intolerance, I have seen significant growth in the gluten-free food industry.  Instead of manufacturing only dry bread that crumbles on contact, companies like Glutino and Bob’s Red Mill are developing an assortment of delicious multigrains, baking mixes and cookies.

Does this help me?  Not really.  Sure, I love cookies, but can I really live off them?  Living in a college dormitory with an unlimited meal plan has its perks, but a gluten-free diet severely restricts my selection.  Gluten-free products like these largely target households with around-the-clock access to a kitchen and time to prepare food separately; I have neither, but that’s where my expertise comes in.

I’m here to show you, fellow gluten-free college students, how to maintain your diet in a world that often feels like it is conspiring against you.  In the coming months, I will reveal the gluten-free secrets that can only come from a mother as strange, obsessive and intelligent as mine.  We’ve spent years enhancing our formula which, although imperfect, can certainly help you.

If you can’t have gluten in your diet and you live on of a meal plan or a college-student budget, your culinary prospects may seem bleak, but don’t give up.  Stay strong.  You’re not alone in this, I promise.