Should you believe the Gluten Free hype?
The world seems to have gone mad at the moment for gluten free products, supermarket shelves are now groaning under the weight of gluten free bagels and bread, but does this mean that the nation has suddenly developed a massive intolerance to gluten? No of course not, so what’s fuelling this sudden craze?
First of all, it helps to know what Gluten is. Basically, gluten is a long protein that’s found in wheat, barley and rye and helps make the bread we eat rise. It’s also used as a binding agent in quite a few things such as sauces and pastes. So why is it so bad for us?
The answer is it’s not. There are some people out there that suffer from something called celiac disease, this is where the body reacts to gluten as if it’s a foreign entity and the immune system attacks. The small bowl is effected and that means the small hairs that absorb nutrients are damaged meaning that they can’t process food properly. It also means that they suffer from stomach cramps, bloating excessive vomiting, anaemia and diarrhea if they ingest it. As someone who lives with a celiac for 2 years it was hard for me to get my head around what exactly it was that was causing it, and surprised at how many things contain gluten.
There are also people who are gluten sensitive, this means they don’t have celiac but they might suffer from things like bloating or mild stomach pains if they ingest some, although this had been disputed as the cause and is more likely the carbohydrates or the starch.
So with only 1% of the population actually having celiac disease why are so many people turning against this seemingly innocuous protein? Well for a start many don’t know it’s a protein and others seem to have (with help from the media) linked gluten to fat. This is probably something to do with the whole idea that bread in itself had gotten a rather bad rap as it’s a carbohydrate, these have also been linked in the press to weight gain, with bread being the main item that we were repeatedly told to cut out of our diets.
The gluten free companies have started marketing the products as a healthier alternative, either blatantly or with subtle packaging or adverts. Now if you do have a reaction to gluten then they are by all means the healthier option, but for people who don’t have a sensitivity to it, but are buying gluten free items, believing they are making the healthier choice, you may be being conned out of your money.
The gluten-free products are often massively more expensive than their counterparts, sometimes up to twice as much. That’s because as there is no Gluten in them the manufacturers have to try to find alternatives that will still give the product a pleasant taste and texture. These shockingly are sometimes a much unhealthy option.
For all the healthy advertising some gluten free product actually contain more: fat, salt, sugar and overall calories than the regular items. So anyone who is after a healthier lifestyle or wants to lose weight and thinks that gluten-free is the way to go might be doing themselves no favours.
Things like cakes and breads often contain a higher fat content as well as sugar and salt to mask the taste of the gums that are used as a replacement to gluten, this means that you are actually eating a worse diet, and paying a pretty penny for the pleasure. The average pack of gluten free bagels for example is about £2.30 per pack, whereas the regular bagels are about £1.60 and contain less fat and sugar, likewise with a standard load of bread, the gluten free option is a whopping £3 a loaf, but the regular option can be bought for as little as 89p!!!
So before you go spending your hard-earned money on what you think is a healthier option, stop and read the labels. The term gluten-free does not mean better for you, or your wallet.