Like most diet changes, the hardest part is starting and the next hardest is sustaining it. For me, overcoming that first hurdle comes by understanding which foods and drinks contain certain ingredients and that takes time. Age old favourites can suddenly be cast out of my diet as they don’t conform to the new regime, but I was never previously even aware they contained this, that or the other. But learning what is going into the body is the important part of the process as then I can make informed choices regarding my diet going forward. That’s the quest, anyway.
So gluten gets a lot of press nowadays. More and more foods are positively branded as ‘gluten-free’, and often positioned in the whole/health foods section of supermarkets. It features in some discursive platform in the press daily. So why the rising trend and should we care?
The first time I came across gluten was to cater for a friend with coeliacs disease, and I felt like I was tiptoeing around the kitchen, talking in hushed whispers to myself, whilst trying not to offend my gluten-filled cupboards. Coeliacs necessarily must rigidly adhere to the gluten-free diet, but more people are taking it on voluntarily. So why do they care? Some critics say that it’s just a marketing ploy that targets the health conscious, the wool has been pulled over their eyes and we are all to think no more of this fad than pure commercialisation. Supporters think that gluten is having wide ranging negative effects on our bodies, particularly digestive issues (including IBS) and dermatological reactions (eczema, psoriasis) amongst other various issues (generally: inflammation, neurological, mental health). Those that arrive at gluten-free often find themselves there due to an elimination process, in an effort to alleviate one or more of these symptoms. The diet often provides relief. It has for me.
So what is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It gives the elasticity to dough, hence its latin name, meaning “glue”. It is ordinarily found in processed wheat products, such as bread and pastry. But gluten is also extracted into a powder form that can be added to products to create structural stability to a product. We often see it in beer, soy, pasta and sausages. It binds the product together better. For want of a different perspective, its not what the food is like naturally. And as an advocate for natural, real food, I’m afraid gluten has to go out the window.
If you are serious about taking this forward, take a look at the dietary contents or allergy section on packaging for direction on whether it goes into the trolly or back on the shelf. The light at the end of the seemingly gloomy tunnel is that most of the foods that are off the books on a gluten-free diet, are now produced without gluten in them, just look for the label. Hurrah! Sausages are back on the menu! (*Phew!)