Gluten-Free Foods: Truth and Folly



It's hard to keep up with the latest trends in healthy eating, and even more difficult to figure out if any of the latest food fads are worthwhile. It takes research, and that doesn't mean what everyone at the very in organic food market on the corner has to say, because most of them are bandwagon jumpers. A lot of the food they're buying is actually pretty good, but some is downright awful. I can't argue with organic produce, no HFCS, non-GMO tainted products, dairy without rBGH or rBST growth hormones, grassfed beef and free range chickens, because I've done my homework, like many of you. However, there's a lot of very expensive food products out there that I am highly suspicious of, not only because they taste terrible but because they cost a lot. For example, kombucha - gross and nutritionally useless (the truly dedicated even eat the "mother", which kinda reminds me of January Jones and her placenta snack, both on the same level to me as dribbling maple syrup on the ball of floor lint emptied out of the vacuum filter.)  But I digress. Marketing trendy foodstuffs is a big business, and anyone who thinks these people are selling these products out of the goodness of their hearts needs to wake up.  They're making a LOT of money selling fear, pandering to popular trends, and knowing that there's a steadily growing population that thinks the more they pay, the better their lives will be, whether it's breakfast cereal or coffee beans culled from civet cat feces.  No, I'm not kidding, and a pound of these beans can go for as much as $600.

Today I was at the big organic market and the gluten-free choices were littered around like a spilled giant bag of M&Ms at a wild bonobo party.  I've actually tried some, in the interest of research, but I guess I haven't hit top of the line with this because I've only had cardboard bread, mushy pasta and crackers that crumble like week-old gritty library paste. Let's face it, a lot of gluten-free products are pretty awful and very pricey.

Do you need gluten-free food or not?  Many of you think you do, so let's take a serious look at the facts, because it's costing you a lot, and not just financially. It's taking a toll on your enjoyment too, because for example, good bread is one of the real culinary pleasures in the world.  People dream about Tartine, I hear. It's a fact. Here's some more facts:

  • 1 out of every 133 Americans (3 million) have celiac disease, say 1%
  • However, it's possible that up to 15% of the population may be gluten-sensitive and 5% actually gluten-intolerant
  • American wheat has more gluten than much of the wheat grown around the world
  • Gluten-free foods are 242% more expensive than non-GF
  • USDA estimates gluten-free industry revenues at over $2 billion this year and climbing

Enlightening, no? Odds are pretty good you do not have gluten intolerance, (Gwyneth Paltrow's silliness aside), but if you think you may, the simplest and least expensive way to find out is quit eating anything with gluten in it for 30 days, then gradually add bread, pasta and other items back into your diet and see how you feel.  If you begin to feel bloated, gassy, have headaches, diarrhea, brain fog, fatigue, you may well be gluten intolerant or even have celiac disease. At which point, it's in your best interests to consult a GI doctor.

However,  you must always be mindful of what and how much you eat, good old moderation in all things.  Eating a big dense bagel piled with cream cheese is more than likely going to give you a bloated feeling, gluten intolerance or no.  Same with a big plate of pasta, stack of pancakes, too much butter-slathered homemade bread, three pieces of deep dish pizza...  My point is too much of anything, but especially dense carbohydrates,  can lead to exactly the same symptoms as gluten intolerance. You don't need to spend $7 on a bad loaf of bread, you simply need to shut your piehole, darlin'.  Eat an apple after ingesting all that and you can listen to your gut sound like Mozart's Requiem for the rest of the evening. You're not gluten intolerant, you've just made unfortunate dinner decisions.

I think people want to find labels or at least a cause for their digestive upsets, when if we're honest with ourselves, a great deal of it is caused by overeating, or indulging in things we know we'll regret. How many times have you thought to yourself -- I really don't need any more cheese tortellini, garlic bread, another slice of pizza, a second helping of goat cheese/sundried tomato/chicken pasta with cream sauce -- but you did it anyway?  Quite a few, and I know this because I've been there, especially if I'm the chef and I know full well how great it tastes.  Take responsibility for your choices, good or bad, and don't go looking for an answer that isn't really an answer.

If, on the other hand,  you've been careful and are having problems, try the 30 day route or go Paleo and see what happens. But for most of us, gluten isn't an issue. So don't listen to the marketing hype, the Spandex-clad beauties at the organic deli spending a week's paycheck on gluten-free products, or the latest hype on the Today show. All of that isn't any different than the Nutri-system, internet and TV marketing sites.  Think, and think for yourself. You know better, so don't be seduced by anything other than your own common sense. Besides, is there really anything that smells better than fresh-baked homemade bread?

Well, OK, maybe fresh-baked homemade cinnamon bread. I'll post up a recipe soon.