Gluten free this or that?

First, I understand that some people (celiacs) genuinely can't digest gluten. Fine. But is this just another health food fad of the moment? There was a cartoon in the New Yorker a week with a young couple cruising in a convertible in what appears to be California as backdrop. The caption reads, "I have no idea what gluten is, either, but I'm avoiding it just to be safe." That cracked me up. Bring on the bagels.



sexyLAMBCHOPx May 7, 2012
Gluten-free diets also benefit those with autism and diabetics. That bagel, loaded with sugar and carbs would hurt.
susan G. May 7, 2012
Gluten free breads and other baked goods have just as many carbs as the ones made with wheat, rye or barley. GF baking often uses starches such as tapioca or potato, which are carbs without the ameliorating germs and fibers of whole grains. There is a shift to using whole grains when possible in GF recipes (quinoa, teff) and bean flours (chickpea, fava) but they almost all add starches for a more "normal" result.
So, I wouldn't recommend them to diabetics!
sexyLAMBCHOPx May 7, 2012
Re diabetics: low carb or no carb is better.

petitbleu May 7, 2012
I have a small scale baking business, and I sell my goods at farmers' markets. I have a lot of people request gluten-free baked goods, and immediately take whatever free sample I have sitting out without bothering to ask if it's gluten free (usually not). This leads me to believe that many who are gluten free can eat gluten but they choose not to for the most part. In any case, I'm a little perplexed by it all, and beyond people with legitimate intolerances, I'd say yes: it's a fad.
I also believe in something I like to call "snowflake syndrome." Basically, this means that some people get a kick out of having dietary restrictions and making others cater to them. Like with lactose intolerance. Many well-aged cheeses contain no lactose because over time the lactose is converted into lactic acid. Yet, many people claim they simply cannot digest any kind of cheese whatsoever.
I don't have a problem with people wanting to eat a certain way, but I think we should all be real with each other and admit if we're choosing a lifestyle or if it's a legitimate medical issue.
What's more, I think that dietary restrictions seem to follow in the wake of affluence (as in the cartoon convertible incidence above). No one in my working class family has food allergies, but I know lots of people with a little more money to burn who have "sensitivities" or have chosen a more pricey diet (vegan, raw, etc.).
Again, I'm not trying to be a jerk about this, and I certainly don't want to turn this into a Marxist debate. If you have a legitimate food allergy or intolerance, then clearly you should respond to your body's needs and adjust your diet accordingly. And those who are gluten-free are in luck! Lots of companies, restaurants, etc. are now catering to this diet and with some delicious results. Even I, as curmudgeonly as I can be about such things, have incorporated some gf baked goods into my repertory :)
Actually, whether or not I agree with the dietary choices people make, the challenge of preparing something delicious, wholesome, and _____-free (fill in the blank) is sort of fun. It stretches the old muscles a little bit. Not to mention the fact that many gf flours (teff, sorghum, oat, millet, coconut, chickpea) are downright tasty as opposed to boring all-purpose.
The fad probably won't stick around for a long time, but I do hope the availability of alternative flours does. Not only is it tastier, but it's healthier and more interesting.
Reiney May 7, 2012
Well said, petitbleu. I don't think a cook or baker, professional or home, with any kind of integrity would ever sabotage or mock a legitimate food allergy/intolerance.

And constraints do demand heightened creativity, which is a good thing too.
beyondcelery May 7, 2012
I've been gluten-free since 2001, so I remember the days when everyone thought I was crazy and making up an allergy (not to mention the dusty sections of the grocery store where I made guesses at what was safe to buy and eat). Now that it's a fad, it's refreshing that at least everyone knows what I'm talking about, even if they still think I'm a little crazy.

I do get annoyed when celebrities belittle the allergy by suddenly going gluten-free and declaring that gluten is awful for everyone. That's just untrue.

That said, I'm with SeaJambon in that I cater to all allergies, no matter how real or imaginary they might be. I just feel vaguely sorry for the people who purposely limit their diets because of fads. In the end, fad or allergy or not, food should be enjoyed in as much variety as possible, in as many tasty ways as possible. That's what my cafe/pub will concentrate on: as much variety in taste and ingredients as possible (without the gluten).
SeaJambon May 7, 2012
As someone who has both Celiac and various levels of gluten intolerance (not to mention many other food sensitivities in my greater family) I can tell you that for those who are genuinely intolerant the issue isn't the least bit amusing -- rather, in some cases it is life threatening, and others "merely" causes days of severe gastric distress (severe enough to require bed rest).

Having said that, there is also a fad element.

Ultimately though, it is all about recognizing that not all foods are healthy for all individuals (surely, you wouldn't give someone with a severe peanut allergy peanuts? And, BTW, we have that one in the family too). Personally, I think much of it has to do with the preponderance of processed foods in our diets (particularly the American diet) -- our systems simply become overwhelmed trying to digest these additives, preservatives, and genetically modified things. So eat fresh, organic (by definition organic will NOT be genetically modified nor "enhanced" with additives or preservatives or pesticides or growth hormones or antibiotics...), a varied diet.

Personally, knowing that so many sensitivities are very, very real (and that they can vary enormously among a group of people), I always honor them among those I cook for (who am I to judge whether an individual's needs are "real" versus "fad"?), and work hard to find the intersection of highly tasty and nutritious food and food that does't hurt.
ChefJune May 7, 2012
For those folks whose bodies can't absorb gluten, it's a very real problem, and nothing to joke about. I'm not one of them, but I DO think we need to vary our diet more. And I also think that wheat is not the same grain it was even back when I was a little kid. [So many new strains have been developed and modified, I don't think it would even recognize itself -- not to mention the addition of the Roundup resistant gene that's been added]

I made my first gluten-free brownies this weekend. I used chestnut flour. They turned out so successful I think I'll do them that way from now on. And my friend Amy can enjoy them with the rest of us!
susan G. May 7, 2012
Americans jump on one fad after another (and we're not alone in the world). When the word 'diet' is attached, they leap up with cash in hand. As a former vendor of gluten-free foods (from 1981, when it was a dusty area of the store), I can tell you about people whose problems went undiagnosed until the inability to digest certain proteins in certain grains was recognized and dealt with by eliminating those foods entirely. The science has gotten better, the medical world is, for the most part, no longer in the dark, and many people feel better because they have eliminated the foods that harm them.
For people who are not celiac or gluten-intolerant, I think the lesson is this: The foods that you eat are in too narrow a range. You need to try other vegetables, other fruits, other proteins... and other grains. Too much of a good thing isn't good.
And for people who must eliminate gluten, the foods are so much better than 30 years ago!
As for nonsense labeling -- There is NO cholesterol in grapeseed oil or bananas. There is NO gluten in grapessed oil or bananas, and no need to label them gluten-free.
pierino May 8, 2012
Susan G makes a good point here. Yesterday I saw a package of all beef hot dogs that was labled "gluten free". Why would you expect to find gluten in your hot dog? The bun of course would have that.
I'm not making light of people who are genuinely celiac and I too am glad that there are more options for those who suffer from the affliction. But it's the silly nonsense that goes with these buzz words that amazes me. My brother professes to be "lactose intolerant" and won't eat cheese. What's interesting is that nobody else in our entire family history has ever had this problem. And like many Americans we are not terribly far removed from the waves of immigration in the early 20th century. Cheese in Europe is part of the whole fabric of the culture. Perhaps my brother's problem is that his diet otherwise consists mainly of beer.
susan G. May 8, 2012
It's possible that the problem you brother has really is the beer -- there's a different set of prohibitions for people with sensitivity to Candida yeast. Beer is off the list, and might cause some of the same symptoms that dairy food does. Hmmm?
There is another Hotline question going where people have mentioned cheeses that have little or no lactose because of aging -- I wonder if your favorite stinky cheeses fall in that category?
pierino May 8, 2012
The cheeses I personally prefer are the runny ones that smell like the feet of God. My brother won't eat any cheese.

Voted the Best Reply!

Reiney May 7, 2012
Ha! Another one was a comedian: "I didn't know what gluten was until I started dating this girl who was gluten-free. Gluten-free breads, cakes, cookies, pizza. Now I know: Gluten's _awesome_! I _love_ gluten!"

Like anything of this nature there is most likely genuine science behind it (and people who are genuinely affected by gluten), which the marketers and nutrition reductionists have subsequently jumped on to make the people prone to hysterics more hysterical.

(See also: antibacterial hand gel, pomegranates.)
drbabs May 7, 2012
I think the fact that there are so many gluten-free products now is really great for people with celiac disease (in which eating gluten can literally cause them to waste away) and sensitivity. So it's unfortunate that it has become just another diet fad-- it can be hard for someone with the true disease to be taken seriously.

But as one of the fortunate many who isn't sensitive to gluten, I'm grateful for all the bagels, cookies and cakes in my life, too.
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