Missing the Point of Gluten Free

Living with loved ones who have special dietary needs due to gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, my interest is always piqued when I stumble across an article on the subject, whether new or old.

Unfortunately, with the article linked here, my interest turned to disdain for not only the researchers but also the journalist who felt it necessary to research and write about the supposed relative “health” of gluten-free foods compared to their “regular” counterparts.

My first criticism is that by “health” they mean “how many calories does a serving have” or “how much fat or sugar” either version has.  Simply boiling down the health of any food based on its caloric content or composition is a little too simple, and one might consider it ignorant.  Iceberg lettuce has virtually no nutritional value in it as far as vitamins and minerals, but it’s low in fat, sugar and overall calories, and earns bonus points for being a green vegetable, so that makes it healthy, right?

My second criticism is their further short-sighted perspective on anyone’s reason for consuming foods that are considered “gluten-free”.  While we’re at it, let’s include foods that are naturally absent of gluten, such as a chicken breast, an apple, or a glass of water (yes I’m starting to get smart).  How do these choices stack up?  The researchers and authors presume that the main reason for choosing to “go gluten-free” is to lose weight or count calories, as if that was the only reason to ever make wiser food choices than they would otherwise.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that most people avoiding gluten do so for other health reasons, such as celiac disease, or other intolerance they’ve discovered that their digestion, auto-immune condition, or cognition is better when they avoid consuming gluten.  Further along these lines, they’re likely the individuals seeing the biggest difference in their health when avoiding it versus not. In comparison, someone choosing gluten-free as an option, rather than out of necessity, isn’t likely to experience much difference in calorie counts, especially as it might relate to their efforts in losing weight. Calorie-wise, gluten-full semolina pasta tends to actually be lower in overall grams of carbohydrates and total calories as compared to gluten-free rice pasta of the same cut.

Perhaps realizing that gluten-free foods might not be lower in calories than other versions might not be so obvious to all people, so these kind science-minded folks have taken it upon themselves to inform anyone in need of that realization. Or perhaps the researchers had their own eureka moment and felt compelled to share this news and reveal their previous naivete.