Have you noticed the proliferation of gluten-free products on the market these days? I consider myself lucky – I can swing both ways i.e. gluten-free or gluten-full. I have gluten freedom.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat based flours. It gives structure to baked goods, helps them to rise (through elasticity) and lends a chewy texture. When gluten is extracted it can be prepared and used as a vegetarian/vegan source of protein. However, for people with celiac disease gluten can be the cause of inflammation in the small intestine and is therefore best avoided in order to help control symptoms of this disease.
Celiac disease is a condition whereby the small intestine is damaged and therefore unable to absorb nutrients essential to good health. This is caused by the immune system’s reaction to gluten in the gut.
Not all gluten products are created equal. Baking is more of an exact science (and an art) than cooking and when one component is removed or altered the entire recipe has to be reworked in order to compensate for the change to the original ingredients. Often gluten-free products make up for the lack of gluten with the use of copious amounts of sugar (and often refined white rice flour). I think there’s nothing wrong with a sweet tooth in moderation but when sugar is the first ingredient it serves as a huge red light to stop, do not pass go and do not collect baked goods for consumption. In short gluten-free doesn’t always mean healthy.
Gluten-free also seems to be a trend amongst the non-celiac peoples. I’ve heard many comments citing “…gluten-free is healthier...” and “…gluten-free will help me lose weight..”
Certainly for people with celiac disease gluten-free is healthier. For the non-celiac person, removing gluten from one’s diet will not result instantly in weight loss unless an exercise regimen is followed and healthy eating habits adopted. You can still have your gluten-filled cake and eat it too. Unless you have a serious medical condition, gluten is not the enemy. Having said that, there are lots of gluten-free options out there that are tasty, nutritious and an innovative way to introduce variety into anyone’s diet.
Gluten-free flour primer:
- rice flour (brown or white)
- arrowroot flour
- sorghum flour
- chickpea flour
- teff flour
- buckwheat flour
- tapioca flour/starch
- potato flour/starch
Stay tuned when I break it down (insert DJ scratch music here) and offer suggestions on how to incorporate some of these gluten-free flours into your daily diet.