Food for Thought

22 Jun

There seem to be two different gluten free diets. The type that people do because they have gluten intolerance or celiac and the type people do because everyone else is singing the praises of a gluten free diet. But like other fads, there are pitfalls and critical thinking is essential.

I do not want to discourage people who would benefit from a gluten free diet from doing one. I do want to encourage folks to think critically about their food choices. Read labels! Did you hear that?! I said, READ LABELS! Yes, it’s really that important. When I shop, my thinking goes something like this, “Would I have eaten something with this nutritional profile before I was gluten free?” If the answer is no, then I think hard about why I want to buy it. Am I buying it because it’s the only option? If yes, then do I actually need it? If yes (i.e. I am not willing to stop eating x all together), then I will go home and use Mr. Google to find a recipe and learn how to make it myself without the bad stuff, and using better grain choices. What I’ve written below is part awareness raising and part encouragement toward critical thinking. I’ve written this because I do not want my website to be just another cog in the wheel encouraging people to buy into a fad.

Going gluten free because “it’s healthier”? That’ s a rather blanket statement and depending on what you’re stating it’s healthier than, quite possibly inaccurate.  Yes, it’s healthier for people with actual medical issues but what do we even mean by “healthier”? What makes it healthier? Is it the lack of wheat and associated GMO? Then why not eat organic ancient grains?  Is it the idea of replacing white bread with something healthier? Many gluten free items contain starches that have no nutritional value but are necessary to mimic gluten in baking. Is that actually “healthier” than white bread? Store bought gluten free products are often dense in carbs and calories and low in nutrition. Here’s an example: the organic, yeast free, sugar free, wheat free, whole grain spelt bread I used to eat was “healthier” than most gluten free alternatives that had corn syrup, corn starch, tapioca starch, sugar, white rice flour. The spelt bread just wasn’t healthier for me. It’s really not that dire though, there are nutritionally dense products out there, they just tend to be even more expensive. You have to be willing to do your research and not just blindly throw products in the cart thinking gluten free = healthy.

Going gluten free to loose weight? This is also a bit of a tricky one. As a blanket statement, “a gluten free diet will help me lose weight” is a bit silly. Yet, some people will lose weight and lots of it.  People will fill up the void created by cutting gluten with healthy or unhealthy choices. Some people will end up cutting almost all grains, increase veggies and fruit, switch to whole (gluten free) grains rather than their previous white flour goods, or just eat a more balanced diet generally as a result of cutting gluten. Other people will run to the frozen isle, find the gluten free section, and stockpile breads, muffins, donuts, cinnamon buns and replace their old carbs with carbs that possibly worse. Perhaps going gluten free would help you lose weight but if your only goal is to lose weight, a better focus might be to increase exercise, water and veggie intake or just take a really good look at your habits and see if there is room for improvement. Or perhaps, just perhaps, your body is actually really happy where it is and doesn’t want to go on a fad diet.

Going gluten free to feel better? It makes sense to eliminate foods to see what might make you feel better provided you’re actually not feeling well, or if you suffer from illnesses related to digestion. Sometimes, we can attain a grater level of health. The question that’s really important to ask yourself when doing elimination diets is, what else shifted when you cut gluten. Did your meat and cheese sandwich go the way of the Dodo and now suddenly you’re a salad with hard boiled egg kinda person? Did you suddenly give up grains for root vegetables?  Were baked goods also the only source of eggs in your diet? My encouragement here is pay attention. Perhaps it’s better balance, less processed food, less sugar, no eggs, more vegetables, that is making a difference. But then again, perhaps it is cutting gluten that makes you feel better.

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help too. My healthcare practitioners really helped me feel empowered and gain knowledge. There is so much information out there and I really believe that for most people the only way to really “get it” is to actually study it and continue to study. Since not all of us want to become doctors, nutritionists, etc. why not ask those who know what they’re doing for help? If you suspect you may be Celiac then get your hiney to a doctor. There are some pretty serious implications with Celiac disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Cutting gluten will help you avoid further injury to your body. However, you may also need to heal damage that the previous gluten has caused. My Naturopathic Doctor helped me with the healing process and for that, I am grateful beyond words.

I really want to encourage people to think about their diet within the context of the bigger picture. Gluten free information is everywhere, products are popping up all over the place, there are advertisements in health magazines and so on. This is really permeating our thinking and I’m not sure that’s entirely good. What is good is that there are options for people who cannot eat gluten. Yippee! What isn’t good is that manufacturers seems to be using this awareness as a tool to sell us crap food at exorbitant prices.

It was my realization of how non-nutritious many of the GF choices were and the associated ridiculous cost that led me to start developing my own recipes. Finding the best, healthiest way possible to be gluten free without giving up too much of my favorite things is important to me. It’s all about balance. Some of my recipes are for unhealthy things like cakes, and cookies. In my family, we call those “good, delicious and non-nutritious.” Those aren’t great food choices but food is social and we have birthday parties, holidays etc. Gluten free people shouldn’t have to stand on the sidelines while people enjoy their cake. I’ve tried to find ways to increase the nutritional profile of the recipes I’ve made. I’ve used pseudo-grains, avoided common allergens when possible (nuts, soy, pea flower, for example) and tried to decrease the starches I use (a work in progress). My recipes should be used with the same critical thinking skills I encourage above. These are tasty substitutes for their gluten containing counterparts. But it’s really not a good idea to eat chocolate cake every day, gluten free or not. So please, enjoy the recipes, use them, and by all means improve them and make them part of your balanced diet!

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