As a country, we have fallen in love with gluten-free products.
Our fascination, I believe, stems from our desire to be healthy, and we have been told that a gluten-free diet is the way to go. But what if it was revealed that the gluten-free recipe really is 2 cups marketing, 1 cup fad, and a pinch of fear?
The end result isn’t necessarily healthy, but rather misleading. And yet, food manufacturers keep cooking it up, and Americans can’t seem to buy it fast enough. Why? Because we as Americans don’t just dabble in new diets, we devour them; we don’t just fiddle with nutritional fads, we flock to them.
With sales of gluten-free products expected to top $10.5 billion next year, the “gluten-free recipe” is clearly working—at least from the perspective of those who profit. Food manufacturers and processors are profiting in dollars and cents, but what about American consumers? Are we profiting? Are we getting healthier by going gluten-free or are we merely side-stepping the issue?
To find out, let’s take a look at the American “gut” or gastrointestinal tract. As Americans continue to rely heavily on processed foods, we see an increasing number of Americans with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. The problem is real and is affecting 1.8 million, according to Mayo Clinic’s 2012 study. In addition, the American “gut”—in the vernacular—continues to plague our country with adult obesity rates at approximately 30%, according to the CDC.
Celiac disease and, to a lesser extent, gluten sensitivity, demand a gluten-free diet. Reversing obesity often involves reducing gluten intake as well. So, why is the gluten-free campaign downright dangerous to our health? Because tomatoes, asparagus stalks, and clementines are not the “products” being labeled “gluten free.” What is labeled (and marketed as) “gluten-free” is processed food—highly processed food.
Americans have long bought into the processed diet. In the 1950s, the food industry transformed itself with a sudden increase in canned and processed goods, which were both marketed and welcomed for their efficiency. Manufacturers simplified the cooking process for us, and we loved it. Why wouldn’t we?
By the 1970s, science was proving a connection between diet and health. Americans were told to cut their intake of meat and dairy and the food industry transformed itself once again. The USDA pushed for greater consumption of whole grains, shifting our focus once again. Consumers fell prey, unwittingly, to the ill effects of the diet. Thinking they were improving their health by reducing their saturated fat intake and increasing whole grains, American consumers were beginning to gain weight.
With the ’90s came mass hysteria over fat intake. Fat was demonized and fat-free foods dominated the market; however, neither consumers nor the media seemed to notice the increase in sugar, calories, and carbohydrates that these fat-free products provided. Americans flocked to “fat-free” in a calculated move to get healthy. But instead, we became “fatter” at an alarming rate.
Which brings us to present day and the gluten-free fad. This time, manufacturers are promoting gluten–free products as if they are an undeniably favorable alternative to wheat and as if they are indeed good for us. The result? Americans now consume an excess amount of potato starch, soy flour, corn flour and rice flour, and these products are even higher in carbohydrates than wheat. If we allow the food industry to villainize gluten with their gluten-free campaign, the real villain—our processed food diet—will remain at large.
To reduce gluten intake, consumers can travel one of two roads. The first offers a processed product, promising improved health on the basis of replacing gluten with another processed ingredient. That is the road that is marketed by food manufacturers; the road by which they profit.
The second offers a plethora of old-fashioned fruits, nuts, vegetables and seeds—natural whole foods. By increasing our consumption of plant based whole foods and reducing our processed-food intake, we dramatically reduce our gluten and carbohydrate intake without creating a new overconsumption problem. This is the road that leads to improved health.
For all of us, fruits and vegetables should be the gluten-free “product of choice.” For those with gluten intolerance/sensitivity, these whole-food gluten-free options can be supplemented, sparingly, with processed gluten-free products. For those without gluten sensitivity, the occasional processed gluten product can be consumed without fear or regret.
For over 50 years, Americans have bought into the dietary trend of the decade—trends capitalized on by food manufacturers. This time, the information is available and there is a choice to be made. Will we, the consumers, wise up and improve our health or will we allow food manufacturers to market us, if not to death, at least to diabetes?
Written by Laura Bushey, MAT, Certified Health Educator and Personal Holistic Chef with Kitchen of Life. To find out more helpful tips find us at: www.facebook.com/kitchenoflifewellness.
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