Gluten or gluten-free… which should you be?
Everywhere we go today, we are bombarded with signs touting “Gluten-Free”. It’s the rage nowadays – the latest brunch craze, the largest sign in all health food stores. But what exactly does it mean when we are eating something that is gluten-free? And is it really healthier for us?
Firstly, we need to understand exactly what gluten is. I took Latin along with Spanish in high school,and learned that gluten means “glue.” Relatedly, gluten is essentially the protein that sticks to wheat, barley, and rye. It is also very common in Asian foods because many Asians eat vegetarian dishes due to their Buddhist religion. Imitation meats, such as beef balls, are very common in Asian supermarkets, and they contain gluten to give it that meat texture/taste. It also serves as a thickening agent in foods.
The gluten-free diet came about because more and more people seemed to have allergic reactions when eating wheat gluten. The symptoms include diarrhea and fatigue and is now known as Celiac disease. Patients with this disease have to go on strict gluten-free diets, which does not mean absolutely no gluten but rather, a minimal amount to prevent intestinal problems of absorption.
You will see gluten-free labeled mostly on cereals, waffles, pancakes, breads, crackers, cookies, pasta flour and any other food item that contains wheat, barley, or rye. But did you know that ice cream and ketchup also has some gluten in them? And if you are considering a gluten-free lifestyle, check your lip balm and vitamins – they may contain gluten as well.
In terms of taste, there is a slight difference. What you are eating will taste a little bit more cardboard-like. More gluten allows for stretch and is what helps dough to rise. My favorite gluten-free item is a German muesli I like to snack on alone or sprinkle in my yogurt. It actually tastes pretty good! Other gluten-free options include brown or wild rice, quinoa, and buckwheat.
So does it pay to be gluten-free? It basically means you will be cutting out a lot of processed foods and refined carbohydrates – that in itself will make you healthier. But will you actually lose weight? Not necessarily. Most gluten-free items contain the same amount of carbohydrates as the same item with gluten. For example, half a cup of my German muesli contains 200 calories, 11 grams of fat (although only 1 gram saturated fat), 16 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 grams of protein. But it has no artificial flavors and none of the other processed unknown ingredients like most regular cereals have.
So I leave the choice up to you if you want to rid your life of gluten. Nowadays, you can find almost everything with a gluten-free alternative, though the price may be slightly higher. With this economy, that may be the deciding factor.