A (semi) recent New York Times article, “A Big Bet on Gluten-Free,” discussed the trend of grocery retailers and food product companies capitalizing on the boom in gluten-free eating. From food labels to shelf labels, everything and anything that is gluten-free is being labelled as so, including naturally gluten-free foods such as fruit juice, fresh produce, and milk. Beyond that, dry food manufacturers such as General Mills (which owns brands like Betty Crocker and Bisquick) have been creating gluten-free versions of their products over the last five years to compete with the slew of small businesses such as Glutino and Udi’s, who were the first to cater to the market. The growth of the GF market has gotten so big that Smart Balance purchased Glutino for over $66 million in 2011, and Udi’s for more than $120 million the following year. Food companies saw a real potential for growth of this market, and are not stopping anytime soon to take advantage.
However, while reading this article I found myself wondering why? Yes, it’s undeniable that this trend has really taken off – and probably in a long-term way, unlike the short-lived “cupcake fad” to which the article refers – but why have people been so quick to jump on the bandwagon? Not a day goes by without some talk show hosting a nutritionist or dietitian who warns us about the dangers of gluten for our digestive system. There’s no doubt that doctors and scientists are on to something when they say that, perhaps, we really weren’t meant to digest gluten after all. Well it’s great that we know that finally. But are we completely taking their advice in the wrong way?
You can walk into a Whole Foods, Star Market, or Stop&Shop and find a version of just about anything that is labeled gluten-free: healthy cereal, unhealthy cereal, toaster pastries, cheese puffs, cupcakes, donuts, sandwich bread. But if you are already on a high-carb diet and you simply switch from regular starchy foods to gluten free ones, are you really doing your body any good? Yes, there is that chance that the gluten-free version is slightly more natural, or made by a certified-organic company (or hey, at least it doesn’t have that evil gluten in it). There is also a chance it is just as crap-loaded as the “original” product, laden with unnatural sugar, processed oils, and ingredients you can’t pronounce. That so many Americans are concerned with health (why would they switch to GF eating – which they somehow think is healthier – if they weren’t?) but fail to see this baffles me. The proof is in the numbers – only 1.8 million people in American suffer from celiac, but way more than 1.8 million people are feeding off this gluten-free market.
I wish that someone would come out and say, “Hey Americans, gluten-free is only a healthier option if you cut out the processed crap!” And there is plenty of processed crap that just happens to be gluten-free. It is only by adding more vegetables, fruits, and fresh, clean foods to your diet that you will truly begin to feel the benefits of a gluten-free diet. As Dr. Osborne explained in a recent video, simply replacing gluten with other grains isn’t going to do you any good. You will begin to feel healthier only by living a clean lifestyle rather than just a gluten-free one. It’s great that the gluten-free market is so big now that I can run to the store and get some GF “oreos” if I am really craving them, but the tricky thing is to not let this become a habit.