Gluten-free, Wheat-free living

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Gluten-free, Wheat-free living

We wooed each other with food. From the early days of our courting, we cooked for each other until that dance we did around the kitchen table became part of the people we are and the people we would become.

This blog is about the pure pleasures of preparing and sharing a meal: the planning for it, the making of it, the taking in of the smells, the turning out of a humble (or spectacular) spread, and the table talk that issues from each of us as we share.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Just Because We Can, Should We?

by Gina Mohr-Callahan, A Fork in the Road

Gluten-free pretzels that rival the wheatful ones. Gluten-free cake and brownie mixes right on the grocery-store baking aisle. Gluten-free cookie boxes next to the gluten-rich ones. Are we living in the future? Almost. In the last year, more than 1,000 new gluten-free foods and beverages have been introduced, and sales of gluten-free foods have grown, on average, by 28 percent during the past five years, according to the market research group Packaged Facts.

For those of us eating gluten-free, that’s great news. Compared to a decade ago, when I was diagnosed with celiac disease, life is very good. We have many more choices, and they’re now also available at mainstream markets, not just the pricey specialty health-food establishments.

But there’s always a downside, and the downside is this: Just because we now have all these packaged gluten-free foods at the ready, should we really be eating so many of them? Yes, it’s natural to sometimes feel deprived on a gluten-free diet, and it’s easy to go overboard when we discover something that we can have. But many gluten-free products contain lots of fat, sugar, salt, and white rice flour – all ingredients most of us should minimize.

One of the good things I discovered about following a gluten-free path was the need to be label-savvy. I’ve learned an enormous amount about what I put into my body, because I have to know what I’m eating to be well. I worry that that pretty little “GF” we’re now seeing on so many new gluten-free products may create a gluten-free population of overconsumers who stop reading about and asking about what’s in their food. The “I Can Have It If It’s GF” habit may be as detrimental to our health – contributing to obesity and other health problems – as gluten was.

What Should We Do?
Obviously, we all need to be well-informed consumers. A “GF” stamp does not mean abdicating responsibility for what we eat. Making smart choices is still essential. Does that mean I’ve stopped trying new gluten-free products or I won’t succumb to the call of the gluten-free siren song at the market? No, but I try to keep my head when I’m shopping, and I use a few calorie-chasing and money-saving tricks to keep me focused on healthy eating:

Shop the Outside Aisle at the Market
  • Fresh fruits and veggies are always gluten-free and healthy choices.
  • Lean, low-fat meat, poultry, and fish are great gluten-free choices without the added salt and fat of commercially processed foods.
  • Fresh (and organic if you can afford it) eggs, milk, and yogurt (if you tolerate dairy) are healthy gluten-free options in moderation. Now, So Delicious brand has introduced healthy coconut milk options in a carton, available in the dairy case.
  • Whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils are essential to ensure we’re getting enough good fats and fiber in our restricted diets. Quinoa (one of my favorites), buckwheat, flaxseeds, oats from a known GF source (and only if you’re at least one year out from initial diagnosis), walnuts, almonds, avocadoes, olive oil, and fish oils are superb choices.
Make It Yourself
  • Adopt the “make your own” motto. Homemade broths, sauces, salad dressings, and soups are much less expensive (and better for you) than the commercially prepared ones, and you can control the added fat and salt.
  • Home-blended gluten-free flours and mixes also take the “ouch” out of the wallet and keep you away from the high-calorie, big-ticket ready-made mixes on the baking aisle. It takes a little more time, but it’s worth it, and you’ll know exactly what’s in everything you eat.
Make It a Question of Balance
After spending more than a decade on the GF path, I’m thrilled there are more GF choices now than ever. But I see these off-the-shelf options as mixed blessings. Arriving at a celiac-disease diagnosis was definitely lifesaving for me. I want to use the same intelligence and resolve that led me to remain of the gluten-free path to strike a healthy balance in my life and to make the most intelligent gluten-free food choices I can. Just because we can find “GF” everywhere now, doesn’t mean those “finds” are the best gluten-free foods for us.

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