Monday, May 6, 2013

The Gluten Free Con

One celebrity craze that seems to be growing all over the world is the "gluten free diet".  High profile celebrities such as: Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus have all shared their information about their healthy "wheat-free" lifestyles, and with such enviable figures who wouldn't want to follow in their foot steps?

Giving up pizza, pasta, bread and cakes (which all contain gluten) is a bigger sacrifice than it may seem. Gluten is a gluey type protein found in barley, wheat and rye, and although it may seem easy enough to give up, it isn't.

Especially when you don't have a personal chef at your beck and call.

Over the past few years, the food industry has noticed a burgeoning gap in the market-leading them to create an ever expanding range of "free from gluten" products.

From Duane Reade-The food Emporium, you can basically walk into any supermarket and see at least one aisle stacked with gluten free foods. Of course for people with coeliac disease who are physically intolerant to products containing wheat, gluten free options make their life a lot easier. According to the food standards agency only an estimated 1% of the population is classified having coeliac disease. So why is this market growing by 15 % each and every year, and currently has a net worth of over $480 million?

The authors of a recent paper in the British Medical Journal suggest that gluten free is not only sought by coeliacs, but frequently brought by people watching their weight. Ever since low carbohydrate diets took the storm years ago, carbs have become a dirty word for anyone.

But one ingredient in particular has become opprobrium. A selection of experts have claimed that it's not carbohydrates as a whole, that make us "fat"- instead its the carbohydrates in the form of wheat, and in particular, the protein called gluten contained within it.

Devotees sch as Gwyenth and lady Gaga claim that going gluten free can alleviate everything from tiredness, bloating, break outs and even hair loss. So are gluten free products really as good for us as we may think? Or are they making us fatter while reducing the size of our bank account?

The Daily Online did an investigation to find out. What they found was that when manufacturers create a gluten free product, they remove the wheat protein from the food by swapping wheat flour for an alternate type of flour, such as: rice, corn, almond, or even bean.

However missing this gluten, makes it difficult for breads and bakery products to retain their softness and taste as they cook. To substitute the missing ingredient, additives such as "hydroxpropyl methlcellulose and xanthum gum or corn starch" are added. Along with extra sugar and fat to make the products tastier.

The fattening side effects are familiar to "Jo Smith" who runs a vintage clothing shop in England. Since going gluten free she has put on 28 pounds. She says: "I  knew it was wheat causing my problems after I was left doubled over with pain one day when I’d eaten nothing but two sandwiches. From then, I stopped eating anything with wheat in it. But I’m living proof that going gluten-free won’t help you lose weight. I’ve put on two stone since coming off gluten — I used to be a small size eight to ten and now I’m a 12 to 14. Weight gain doesn’t concern me, as even though I haven’t been tested, I believe wheat was poisoning me. But it baffles me that someone who has no medical need to go gluten-free would choose to do so." and she's not the only one.

Claire Combes, who is also in her forties piled on the pounds after going gluten-free. ‘Five years ago, I found that when I ate food high in gluten, such as bread, pasta and potatoes, I felt bloated and tired,’ says Claire. "I wasn’t overweight, but decided I’d switch to gluten-free products to see if this improved my health."I stocked up on gluten-free bread, spaghetti and pasta, as well as gluten-free snacks. These products were more expensive, but I felt they were worth it for their health benefits. I didn’t have a clue they were higher in fats, and I had no idea they could make me put on weight, rather than lose it. Over the next few years, as I stuck to my gluten-free regime, my weight rose to 9 st 10 lb. I couldn’t understand it — I thought I was doing everything right; watching what I ate and eating a gluten-free diet. I also did Pilate's and walked everywhere. Then I discovered from a friend that eating a gluten or wheat-free diet does not automatically make you slimmer. She recommended a more balanced and nutritious diet with more fresh food and veg. Following this, I have managed to drop to 8st 3lb. I avoid any sort of bread — gluten-free or otherwise — and pasta."

As Claire points out, the other side of the fad is that its a money spinner for food companies, as gluten free products sell for a premium price. The companies justification for the increase is that: "The demand is lower"making the overall cost of materials and overheads for the expensive products-higher.

So if gluten free won't make us thinner or healthier, why are people adopting it so frequently? Books such as the New York Times bestseller "Wheat Belly" by Willaims Davis could be one of the reasons. Davis who is a cardiologist links the consumption of wheat to everything. From schizophrenia to dandruff, he is a strong believer that it is a "chronic poison" and he even says it is as "dangerous as heroin"

A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics last year concluded: ‘There is no evidence to suggest following a gluten-free diet has any significant benefits in the general population. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that a gluten-free diet may adversely affect gut health in those without coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity."

Perhaps the answer lies in finding the middle ground. If you’re eating toast for breakfast, a baguette for lunch and pasta for dinner, it’s probably time to cut down and introduce more fruit and vegetables, while being aware that going gluten free may not be the answer to your well being or your waistline.

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