Being Gluten-Free and the Benefits of Whole Grains

To be honest, I, like many people, have often been confused by “gluten-free” labels on many products. For one, I had no idea what gluten was. Two, why would someone need to be free of it? I know several people who cannot eat gluten because of Celiac’s Disease, but the gluten-free labels on products these days sort of seemed fadish. A friend of mine had started a “gluten-free” diet when she was trying to lose weight. Since I do not believe in weight-loss diets (just simple well-rounded, moderated, healthy eating all the time), I found myself moved to find out what gluten is and what benefits exist in leaving it out.

These questions have stayed with me for some time and I still haven’t found answers. Though I know that some people truly need to keep their diets free of gluten because of the digestive issues it causes them, it’s hard for me to believe that this disease is so prevalent as to create the buzz I am often hearing about it. Don’t get me wrong, gluten-free restaurants and product lines are great for the people who need them, but is there a reason for someone who doesn’t to patronize them? Please, someone who knows more about this inform me, because it baffles me.

Emily over at Dragonfly: Tales from the Phantom Rickshaw just wrote an interesting post on her family’s reasons for being gluten-free (and dairy-free) and how they did it. She also sprinkles in some interesting points about generally maintaining nutritional value through using unrefined sugars, and fresher, uncracked grains. I learned a lot, and if you are confused about these things as I am, check out her “Gluten-Free Brain Dump,” parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. The last part is especially interesting as it includes her recipe for rice milk and its uses. I think I might try this soon, as rice milk is just plain delicious, and sometimes my stomach is just happier if I avoid dairy.

8 responses to “Being Gluten-Free and the Benefits of Whole Grains”

  1. I was gluten-free for a while. (This was during the period I was just-about-everything-potentially-harmful-to-the-human-body-free, so I can’t speaking to the experience of being soely gluten-free.)
    For me, it wasn’t so much that gluten was evil, it was that avoiding gluten made it so easy to avoid so many other evils. By avoiding gluten I necessarily avoid nearly all refined flours, which helped me eat healthy in a myriad of ways. The easiest is that being gluten-free I ate absolutely no bread, cakes, sauces, cookies, brownies, pastas or such that I did not prepare myself, which neatly cut out partially hydrogenated anything, as well high fructose anything. So if I needed a quick snack or meal at a bodega, I pretty much was forced to get fresh fruit and a bag of almonds, which is pretty darn healthy.
    Even if I was lucky enough to find a gluten-free brownie, it was so far from the real thing, that while I always finished it, I never had the desire to eat four of them.

    • That totally makes sense. I can see how it would be a helpful way to stay away from sugar since it cutting out gluten cuts out so many baked goods. I guess it’s the whole “gluten is evil” thing I don’t understand. I do see, however, how seeking out and cooking with other grains can be more nutritious, and that refined flour loses most of wheat’s various nutritional properties. Thanks!

  2. I don’t think there is anything necessarily unhealthy about gluten. As Maria said, the people picking gluten free foods (or low carb, or vegetarian, or vegan, or $label) are just hoping they’ll be “healthier” somehow. And often the manufacturers do cater to multiple concerns: no refined sugars, no dairy (many people with celiac are lactose-intolerant), no preservatives, etc.

    I would never give up bread, but I cooked gluten-free a lot for an ex boyfriend with celiac. Making gluten-free food everyone would eat was a fun culinary challenge. But it was also a way, as Emily says in her blog, to make him feel less deprived. He didn’t know how to cook, and no matter how painfully ill it made him, he was still willing to eat wheat to avoid being “that guy” sitting out dinner or grilling the waiter on ingredients. It just killed me.

    To me, that explains the popularity of gluten-free products and restaurants like Sambuca. If someone you love has celiac, being able to share a meal without worry is a rare and amazing treat.

    • Another great point. I’m really curious about how common this disease is. I only ever heard about it in the last year or so, so I thought it was not very common, but the internet now makes me understand that it is much more common than I believed before.

      It certainly makes me more aware of how I don’t always think about everything in the food I eat. I’ve always paid some attention, as ingredients listings are interesting, but I have only recently become aware of how truly prevalent wheat and corn are in most processed foods. They fell under my radar since I was often looking for animal biproducts either for lactose, vegetarian, vegan or kosher concerns. This is an entirely different ballpark. I can only imagine how hard it might be for someone whose diet needs to be kept in lines with several of those listed above. All the more reason to cook for yourself whenever possible.

  3. I’ve been told that about 2% of the population has some sort of wheat allergy. Which makes 160,000 New Yorkers.

    • If that’s true, that is a hefty number. That explains the survival of restaurants here. It must really suck to be in a less populated region though (like most things that are great about New York).

  4. It is difficult to be Gluten-Free in a region that is lower in population density. I am in way/deep South Texas, just 13 miles north of Mexico. I am what is called “Anglo” (though it is not accurate, I am more Celtic, but they don’t get that) by the over 90% Mexican-American population here.
    Thank God for those Corn Tortillas!
    I know of only one other person here with Celiac Disease.
    They restaurants are about 95% “Mexican Food” and one one restaurant thus far (and it’s a chain) has what it calls a “gluten-Free menu” even though it is NOT Gluten-Free. But who is gonna complain?
    Any way, I have a blog that keeps me in touch at . Stop by some time.

  5. Hi William,

    I noticed your blog after writing this post. Thanks for sharing your experience over here. Welcome, and I’ll be sure to follow you. I’m interested in learning more about how people deal with gluten issues in less populated areas.

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