Gluten AgainPublished 1.25.2016
This is not the first time I've written about gluten. This second entry was inspired by a recent New York Times article that reported on a short term study, which attempted to measure the effects of gluten on a group of cyclists. It was a very short study of a very few athletes, none of whom had and known issue with gluten, and the results were that gluten had no effect. Studies are expensive to set up and run, but this one really doesn't seem to have shed any new light, except to counter fools who try and say that wheat is poison.
Wheat is not poison, and if eating it doesn't bother you, have at it. Really. If you can eat and enjoy wheat based food, then I'm happy for you and wish you good appetite and health. However, I still minimize the amount of gluten in my diet because doing so has kept my gut happier for the past four (going on five) years. If that's a placebo effect, it's one damn powerful placebo.
Note the verb MINIMIZE in the above sentence. I am not gluten free, but I skip the pasta in favor of rice, and I pass on the bread basket at restaurants. At home, I make gluten-free breads and pizza crusts in the same way that I used to make my own wheat breads and pizza crusts. I use bean flours ground from the whole beans. I defy anyone to prove that grain flours are healthier than bean flours. Even if the grain flours are made from whole grains— and most are not because whole grain flours become rancid very fast. That's why people started refining grains, so that they would last longer.
Legumes over grainsLegumes are nutritional power houses. One of the stupidest precepts of the "paleo" fad diet is the taboo on legume consumption. The primary reason usually given is that legumes (beans) contain phytates, but the plain reality is that cooking eliminates the issue with phytates. Even peanuts aren't eaten raw. Cook your legumes and eat them for health. Not only are beans the chock full of nutrients, they are also inexpensive.
Bean flours are used extensively in Indian cooking, so if you have a grocery that caters to Indian or Pakistanis, then you have access to an amazing variety of flours. Beyond bean flours there are non-gluten grain flours that can be used. Rice, potato and tapioca flours are included in this group. Asian groceries also have a variety of non-gluten pastas available. There are many, many websites that discuss gluten free baking. I've even occasionally offered gluten free recipes that have worked for me, but that's not the point of this piece.
Why does it matter?I remain mystified why it matters to anyone that I (or anyone else) choose to avoid gluten— provided, as noted above, they aren't peddling any anti-gluten woo. Eating a gluten free diet does not have to be any less healthy than one with gluten, though eliminating gluten (unless you have celiac's) doesn't automatically make a diet healthier. Processed gluten free foods may be unhealthy— but so are processed foods WITH gluten. In fact, MOST food does not have gluten. Potatoes, rice, oats, fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy… none of those foods contain gluten. A very healthy and nutritious diet could be created using those foods. A very kid friendly, healthy diet could be created with those foods. However… those foods listed are not (or don't have to be) industrially processed.
And now we come to the nub of the issue. Gluten is EVERYWHERE in processed foods. If you choose to eliminate or even minimize gluten in your diet, then you are choosing to avoid most processed and/or fast foods. Wheat is cheap and so has found it's way into many processed foods. If enough people start avoiding products with gluten, then profits would be affected. Of course, if enough people are looking to avoid gluten, food processors will reformulate their processed foods without gluten. Those pissed about non-celiac's sufferers eating gluten free are also angry about these new options too. Why? They can be more expensive, and they have a different nutritional profile than the gluten based versions. But so what? That's the free market system in action. A new market (even if it turns out to be short term one— aka a fad) has been identified and manufacturers will move to serve it. Who is being harmed here?
To be clear, I avoided most processed foods when I ate gluten, I don't now buy many processed gluten free foods. There is ZERO need to eat industrially processed food. Sure, I occasionally buy and consume processed foods (at home or at restaurants), but over all, my inclination is to buy ingredients with one word labels, and cook for myself— without gluten. If you choose differently, then I have no problem with that. Why should anyone have a problem with my eating choices?