About a month ago I was interviewed by a blogger about my position on the gluten-free trend. As is always the case, the blogger used some of what we talked about. A reporter can never use everything that an interviewee says – there just isn’t enough space in a post/story. I didn’t feel that my quotes used in her piece fully covered my position. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I was misquoted. I just thought that I would take the opportunity to write an article sharing (and explaining) my full position.
Perhaps you can call me old and jaded but I studied nutrition at university for 8 years and I’ve practiced as a dietitian for over 10 years. I’ve seen many trends come and go, like the low cholesterol trend, the low fat trend, Atkins, soy being an all powerful super food, soy being evil, and more. Gluten-free is the current trend.
First, as you’ve already realized, I do believe that it’s a trend. As such, it will have its time and then pass on (and another trend will come along).
However, saying that it’s trend doesn’t mean that I think it’s all junk.
Quite the opposite, celiac disease is real and it’s serious. The medical community is finding more people who have celiac disease. What’s not clear is whether it’s truly on the rise or whether they’re just doing a better job of finding people who have celiac disease through better diagnostic tests and a better understanding of the disease.
In addition, there are also people who have gluten sensitivities. In fact I’m one of them. If I eat more than a serving or two of a gluten-containing grain then I get hives.
I don’t, however, think that everyone needs to avoid gluten. Or that’s it’s inherently unhealthy. Or, that it’s the cause of the gazillion things of which it’s been accused.
If you’ve been wondering if your family should go gluten-free, or if your family should be eating more gluten-free foods, here’s the positives to take advantage of and the traps to avoid.
- Inspiration to Try New Grains: Human beings are omnivores. We thrive on eating a variety of foods. Often people think that they’re eating a variety of grains, but eating wheat-based cereal, toast, flour tortillas, crackers and pasta are all just different shapes of wheat. Wheat was out of balance in many people’s eating habits. I like that the gluten-free trend is inspiring people to try new grains. After all there’s a huge variety out there: rice, wild rice, quinoa, barley, oats, teff, millet, amaranth, corn, buckwheat, and more.
- Better Gluten-Free Products: In the past, gluten-free products were difficult to find and many tasted awful. With the trend creating a market, more companies are creating delicious gluten-free products which is awesome for people with celiac disease!
Gluten-Free Traps to Avoid:
- Gluten-free = Healthy: There’s a marketing term called the “health halo”. It means that the public will mistakenly think that an unhealthy food a food is healthy by a false association. Right now, people are equating “gluten-free” with “healthy”, when in fact it’s not necessarily true. A gluten-free brownie is still not a health food. Hey, if you want to eat a brownie, go ahead. Just don’t be tricked into thinking that it’s a health food. I know that I’m being obtuse with this brownie example. But I see intelligent people falling for the health halo all the time. Food products made with highly processed (gluten-free) flours, lots of sugar, high in salt, and/or few nutrients such as cakes, cookies, breads, cereals, crackers, candy, chocolate, and chips are not a healthy choice. Recognize and enjoy them for the treats that they are.
- Include Sources of Iron and Folic Acid: Wheat flour is fortified with folic acid in Canada and many common foods, e,g, bread and cereal, are fortified with iron in Canada. Most gluten-free substitutions are not fortified. If you eat a lot of wheat-based grain products and are thinking about including more non-wheat grains, be sure that you’re eating other sources of iron and folic acid. Iron-rich foods include beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and nut butters, meat, poultry, seafood, egg yolks, black strap molasses, iron-fortified baby cereals, (and cooked spinach has some iron). Folic acid is found in dark, leafy greens, beans, lentils, corn and oranges. Note: it’s recommended that all girls and women from their first period through menopause take 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid from a supplement. Most multivitamins for women contain this.
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