Gluten free is everywhere these days. It is in the press, it is in the restaurants, in the stores. As usual, everyone and their mother is making money on it, from book authors, to dietitians, to doctors, to the food industry, exercise and lifestyle gurus. It is not only certified celiac people who are on these diets, but also people who claim gluten “sensitivities”. These “wusses”, the story goes, are just fad following idiots who claim to have given up gluten and all of a sudden they feel better. Poor sheep, they are being used by the evil industry and told how to feel…
To make matters worse, studies come out pointing out that the average American who is on the gluten free bandwagon is actually eating worse than his wheat guzzling counterparts! I mean, it is science, isn’t it. More ammo for everyone to laugh at us, I suppose.
However, as in everything else, context matters. The studies conducted compared the store bought gluten-free foods to their gluten-loaded counterparts. The reason store bought gluten free stuff is so bad for you is that in order to achieve the same consistency and taste, the gluten free products must be laden with more fats and sugars, that much is obvious.
Case closed? Nope, not by far.
First of all, comparing gluten free and gluten-laden processed foods is like comparing diarrhea samples - which diarrhea is better to have? Probably none, if you ask me.
What the studies should be comparing are gluten-free home-cooked meals to their counterparts. In that case, the picture is somewhat different. If you make all your meals from scratch, yes, you will still need more eggs and maybe more sugar to make stuff taste the same. But, on the converse, eating a strictly barley/rye/wheat based diet exposes you to two risks: 1) today’s wheat is nothing like the one grown in the 1800s - the varieties have changed, the nutritional profile has worsened significantly, the way we process wheat has changed (white flour, most nutrients removed), so on and so on and 2) more importantly, you are missing out on the wonderful world of non-gluten grains such as teff, buckwheat, millet, sorghum and oats or things like amaranth or quinoa. These grains have different nutritional profiles and are much richer sources of amino acids, minerals and other sources of nutrition than the common wheat grown today. More so, most of the non-gluten grains have changed little from the 1800s - the buckwheat you eat today is very likely pretty similar to the buckwheat the Russian peasant used to make his daily kasha.
At the end of the day, the scientists and doctors should be recommending home-cooked veggie and fruit based diets with the addition of healthy fats (such as from authentic olive oil) and carbohydrates from a variety of grains. Compared to any other diet out there, the latter is superior. Being gluten free is just a beneficial side-effect. Do not waste resources and time comparing processed food diets, none of them are nutritious in the end.
So, next time you criticize people who are on the gluten-free bandwagon, you are only making yourself look stupid. I am gluten free and my diet has improved tremendously since my wheat guzzling days. I only eat what I grow or prepare from basic ingredients and I eat variety of grains with different nutritional profiles. Compared to that, someone just stuck on wheat or rye or barley is definitely losing out.
P.S. Oh yeah, I think that 80%+ of the people who criticize the gluten-free crowd probably eat the processed crap from the grocery store or eat at fast food joints for a good portion of their diet. It is always funny to get laughed at by someone like that…