These days, it’s become practically mainstream to go gluten-free. More and more people are becoming aware of gluten allergies, and that we could all do with a little less of it (very true). Even people who don’t specifically have a gluten allergy are choosing gluten-free products now. But, you know what? I don’t like gluten-free. I think, generally, it misses the point.
People are always looking for the easiest way to do something. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know what else to do; sometimes it’s because they are overwhelmed; and sometimes it’s because they like the easy way out because, well…it’s easy. Gluten-free, especially as it has become much more recognized (did you know many restaurants now offer gluten-free options or entire menus?), has become an “easy way out.”
The problem in our American diets is not really gluten. Yes, too much gluten is bad for us. Yes, a lot of people are sensitive to it. Yes, we do have many people who are diagnosed with celiac, and avoiding gluten is crucial to their health.
But the real problem is that we just eat too many grain-based foods. Going gluten-free, especially when people do it because it’s “popular” rather than out of a real health need, is just a way to eat the same amount of grains — just different ones. Instead of switching out wheat-based foods for naturally gluten-free foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy, we simply replace our breads, snacks, and treats with gluten-free versions, and think we are much healthier.
But many gluten-free products are highly processed and not particularly healthy. They contain xanthan gum, guar gum, lots of starch, sugar, polyunsaturated oils (which, when heated, are as bad as trans fats), and so on. A lot of gluten-free flours couldn’t be created in your own kitchen. I can buy wheat berries and grind my own wheat. I can’t make my own potato starch, and I’m not sure about bean flours….
“If they’re gluten-free they’re safe! And we like pretzels!” But do you really need to eat that much cornstarch? And if they’re not organic, they’re probably GMO, too. Most corn is, and a lot of rice is now, too, so unless you always buy organic (even plain corn and rice), you are probably consuming GMOs.
We are destroying our guts and our health anyway by consuming these overly processed food items and heavy amounts of starch and sugar, which still spike our blood sugar. If you are on a gluten-free diet in order to try to help a particular health condition (like autism), please know it is the overload of starch that is hard on the gut, and that going gluten-free doesn’t change that. Those products are still quite high in starch and will not allow the gut to heal. Processed gluten-free products are fooling people into thinking they are taking a step towards becoming healthier, when really they’re not. It’s kind of like all those artificial sweeteners…. (Please tell me you know those are bad!)
Which do you think is healthier for most people — naturally fermented sourdough, made with whole, non-GMO grains; or processed gluten-free bread with bleached flours, thickeners and gums?
Overall, the solution is just to reduce our overall consumption of grains. We need to stop thinking “If it’s gluten-free, it’s okay!” and then indulging in junk food. It’s just like the fat-free cookies that people buy (which are loaded with sugar). We’re tricked into thinking these products are healthy but it is just mass marketing! Read the label on a gluten-free product sometime and tell me how many ingredients you can pronounce, and how many you could create in your own kitchen. I’m betting you’ll find several on there that you can’t.
We need focus, instead, on naturally gluten-free products, like fruits and vegetables, meats, and raw dairy, rather than just replacing our old favorites with possibly-less-bad substitutes. It’s like buying soda made with real cane sugar from the health food store: yeah, it’s better, but it’s certainly not healthy! It’s not going to improve your wellbeing in any way.
Is that to say that we should never have any treats? No. A rare gluten-free treat is better than a conventional one, to be sure. But we shouldn’t have a steady diet of gluten-free bread, crackers, pretzels, and cookies, just because “they’re gluten free!”
Should we never eat any grains? For many people that’s not realistic. They like to eat corn and rice from time to time. Hey, we do too, although we’re currently choosing not to. But instead of serving some form of grains with every meal, or even as the meal, we should be mindful of our food choices and attempt to eat more naturally gluten-free foods.
What do you think of gluten-free? Are you gluten-free?