I confess. As I write this blog, I am chewing on a piece of toast made from Italian artisan whole wheat flour and thanking my lucky stars that I don’t have to live without this manna from heaven.
Gluten (from Latin gluten, "glue") “is a protein composite found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.”
It’s an interesting phenomenon that gluten, a protein, has been saddled with the role of villain in our protein-obsessed culture.
It’s not common to see a serious (and rare) medical disease drive forward a diet craze, but that’s exactly what happened with going gluten-free. About 1% of the US population has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an auto-immune disorder that requires (yes, requires…) the abstinence from all foods containing gluten. (Another 6% claim gluten intolerance or sensitivity but there is no validated diagnostic marker for it.) My dear friends who suffer from this malady lead extraordinary lives without gluten but are puzzled by the social contagion their disorder has sparked.
Going gluten-free has become like the new Holy Grail of dieting with expectations of losing weight, sleeping better and being healthier. It won’t necessarily provide any of those things but the market is flooded and continues to generate boatloads of gluten-free products marketed to the general population as the savior of our collective health.
Even Domino’s has jumped on the bandwagon with a gluten-free crust option (although their website cautions against true celiac sufferers eating it). Now for me, there are a lot of reasons not to order a pizza from Domino’s but that’s another story. I applaud their efforts here.
Michael Pollan, food expert and New York Times bestselling author thinks there’s more to the gluten-free craze than gluten intolerance alone. “The number of people that are genuinely gluten-sensitive cannot be growing as fast as the market niche is growing.”
And he may be onto something...at least in terms of the market outpacing the real need.
Excluding products that are naturally gluten-free, like brown rice, estimates for the gluten-free product market are staggering: worth a whopping $486.5 billion in 2013 alone and expected to grow to the tune of 38% by 2018.
There’s a problem with all of this. People carry the conviction that gluten-free products are better for their health and that may not always be the case. In fact, many gluten-free products are highly refined and processed and far removed from food in its natural state.
From hot dogs to beer, processed gluten-free foods are usually designed to taste and feel like their glutinous counterparts and as a result, are highly processed with high glycemic index numbers, meaning they can cause a spike in blood glucose levels when consumed. According to Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly, "As often happens, the processed food industry has no idea what they're doing. Or, even worse, they know exactly what they're doing and don't care because they see this wonderful explosion in interest in gluten-free [products], so they step in as opportunists. That's why we have all these breakfast cereals right now being called gluten-free, but they're made with junk. They're sugar and cornstarch or some nonsense like puffed rice. These are awful for you."
For this entire month which is dedicated to Celiac awareness, we will look at all things gluten. If you’ve considered dumping it from your diet, you might want to read what we have to say before you do. I’ve gathered the best information I can find to help you decide if you should live with or without gluten. We’ll present the facts about the protein itself, Celiac, gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity…and the fierce marketing behind the gluten-free processed food industry.
And we will present some delicious, gluten-free recipes made from real food for you to incorporate into your diet, whether you live gluten-free or not!