Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is Gluten Free really Healthier?

The new "fad diet"; Gluten free! Is it really healthier?

There seems to be a lot of confusion. Whole foods offers healthy options. Whole foods offers organic produce. Whole foods offers eco friendly products. Whole Foods also offers Gluten Free goodies. Therefore; gluten free is healthy for everyone, right?

Well, maybe. But simply eating gluten free products isn't necessarily healthy for anyone (Celiac patients included!)

As we've covered before, gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. For people with Celiac Disease, it causes an immune response which damages the intestines. This is serious...without the little villi in your intestinal walls, you don't digest your food properly. Which means, you can get malnourished.

Some people are simple sensitive to gluten. And with all the research going on, some people wonder if gluten is good for anyone. Others are concerned because a gluten free diet appears limiting. Could it possibly be safe to give up wheat?

The thing is, our society relies too heavily on grains. It's not unusual for the typical American to eat a bowl of wheat cereal with some toast, snack on a bagel, eat a sandwich for lunch, some pizza and salad with croutons for dinner, wash it down with a handful of cookies and call it a relatively rounded diet. In fact, they just ate several days' worth of gluten (and corn) with a bit of veggie and meat thrown in for flavor.

If you eat the typical American fare, and simply substitute your bread for a gluten free variety your pocketbook is going to take a serious hit. Your body won't thank you much, either. Gluten free baking relies on a variety of starches and sugars to create an acceptable mouthfeel, and please our tastebuds. In some ways, a slice of gluten free white bread isn't nearly as healthy as a slice of whole grain wheat. (Unless you have Celiac Disease, of course, in which case the whole grain wheat is equivalent to eating arsenic. Don't do it.)

However, a healthy diet can be gluten free. Vegetables are gluten free. Potatoes, meats, eggs and fruit are gluten free. You can eat a varied diet, a rainbow of nutrients, without touching a grain of gluten. A gluten free diet that involves a variety of nutrients, from a plethora of sources, is perfectly healthy.

However, like most diets, its easy to follow an unhealthy version. And too many people look for the easy way out. Eating gluten free convenience items, which have been altered to be gluten free, is no different than eating regular convenience foods all the time. Except that most gluten free foods aren't enriched with synthetic vitamins to make them look a little healthier.

In other words, turning a dish gluten free doesn't "healthy it up". Leaving an ingredient out of a meal does not improve it's health content in and of itself. But there are a myriad of healthy, whole food menus that don't include gluten (Or dairy, or corn. At least, in their natural state). Since grains are a relatively recent addition to the human diet, real food can naturally be gluten free. And tasty too.

I know my diet is far from ideal. My goal is simply healthIER. Not genuinely healthy. In this society, it would be pretty difficult to reach that lofty ambition.

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