Gluten Free, More than a Trend
Recently in an article I read, it was reported that one third of all adults here in the US want to eliminate gluten from their diet. Yet only one percent of the population has an actual diagnosis of celiac disease. If the trend holds—and it is expected to– it will be interesting to see the impact on our shopping experience in the near future.
At the moment, nearly one third of the products in our grocery stores contain gluten.
Perhaps suppliers will start to produce products with less questionable ingredients. That would certainly be a plus. But right now products that are prepared gluten free are usually more expensive. A loaf of bread—a small loaf at that—may cost $4.00. Will the demand bring the prices down as it becomes more popular? Will people pay substantially more to be gluten free? Will we actually see less products made that contain gluten?
Eliminating bread with gluten doesn’t sound all that difficult, does it? However giving up gluten doesn’t just mean eliminating bread that uses wheat flour. If it is found in a third of the products in the store, gluten must be present is a large variety of products. Pastas, flour tortillas, cereals, cookies, cakes, muffins, crackers and croutons are some of the more obvious foods. Don’t forget it is used in fried foods, gravies and sauces too.
More of a surprise to me was its use in soups and bouillon, salad dressings, some lunch/processed meats, imitation fish, and even soy sauce! You will also find it used in rice mixes. Since rice itself is gluten free, adding flour with the seasonings seems particularly defeating. Same with some snacks and cereals. If you pick corn flakes, do you expect it to contain gluten?
Some products include malt, which contains gluten. So while a product might be wheat free, but that doesn’t mean it is gluten free.
BEER DRINKERS BEWARE
Speaking of malt, beer drinkers look out! Malt is often made from grains containing gluten. No need to panic though. You will be relieved to know there are several brands on the market that are gluten free. Dogfish Head, Estrella, Omission, and Harvester are a few of the companies that offer gluten free choices.
What about oats? I thought oats were permitted, and they are, but it is important to see ‘gluten-free’ on their packaging. When many oats are processed they come into contact with the rest of the grain and thus may contain gluten. For those with celiac disease, it is usually recommended they go off it, then gradually add a gluten free oatmeal back into their diet. Then it is usually fine.
For those Americans who are choosing to be gluten free, they will have to decide how far they want to take it.
SO WHAT CAN YOU EAT?
Whenever a trend or a life style diet comes up, it always seems to take us back to eating natural foods. The less processed the food, the better. Fruits and vegetables, beans, and nuts are good choices. Meats, fish and poultry and dairy are gluten free. Rice, corn, soy, potato, and quinoa are gluten free. You can choose a nut flour such as almond flour.
Tapioca, flax, arrowroot, millet, amaranth and sorghum are other ingredients you might see listed on packages. They too are gluten free.
Seeing that gluten is added to so many products gives us another reason to make our own foods at home. Whether you are making a rice dish or soup, if you make it yourself you know exactly what ingredients are in there. That is proving to be a better and better idea.
IS IT REALLY NECESSARY?
If you have celiac disease, you may need to be gluten free. That is for you and your doctor to decide.
If you are not, it isn’t clear that being gluten free will be of help to your body. Of course, eating natural, less processed foods will be of benefit to most. In gluten free foods that are processed, there is often more sugar, fats, and sodium. When you give up wheat flours, you decrease the amount of folic acid you are getting. Lastly, in a Consumer Report study a couple of years ago, a test of rice flour—one of the most popular wheat flour substitutes—they found the levels of arsenic were high enough to be of concern.
As with most things, there are pros and cons. Still it will be interesting to see the effects on the foods we see in our stores. Already more and more Americans are choosing to go for natural foods. We are seeing more organic options available in our stores. Those are both trends we need. Hopefully it will help us realize the need to back away from all the packaged foods that are on the shelves.