Gluten-Free: Trends and Muddy Waters

19 Aug 2010, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in news & buzz

Photo by Elephi PelephiGluten-free is everywhere. I saw it in every aisle at this year’s Fancy Food Show, which was encouraging, but made me wary at the same time. Tuesday’s Toronto Star echoed my thoughts.

Remember that low-fat thing? Everyone thought fat was the culprit adding unwanted pounds to our tummies and thighs — until everyone realized that those products screaming “LOW-FAT” were filled with extra sugars, unhealthy carbs and glue-like substances to make up for the missing texture. Guess what’s going to happen to gluten-free when Big Food gets its hands on the genre? I’ve already passed over the “Wonder Breads” of gluten-free, which are sickly sweet and have a grotesque, soft-sticky texture.

For those of us who must eat this way by necessity, or will soon need to, this muddies the waters terribly, and people suddenly faced with a life-changing health decision may find themselves in over their heads. When I’m looking for a gluten- or dairy-free product, I look first to manufacturers who have a reason for being so — typically it’s because someone in their family, or they themselves, have become ill. Same goes for restaurants. There is a vested interest in creating a product or dish that not only tastes good, but is also resplendent with health benefits.

Big Food just wants your dollars. All 4 billion of them.

Having said all of that, I firmly believe in caveat emptor — but I also feel compelled to help consumers make that decision based on solid, unbiased information with the goal of health. And as someone who has stood, overwhelmed, in the grocery aisle, I know that this is one big honking task to take on. That’s what Zenfully Delicious is for, but holy hell is there a lot of work ahead. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness is already doing a great job, so I’ll stick to the bigger issues.

So until the new site launches, I encourage you to read your supermarket labels. Know what all the gooey and unhealthy additives are, and be on the lookout for them. We’ll be doing product reviews to help you with the process, but for now, keep it natural!

Photo by Elephi Pelephi

  • Alexander

    Doesn’t Big Food have an interest in meeting the demands of its customers? Isn’t that enough?

  • Great post! and thank you for the advice.

    Bridget Davis ~ The Internet Chef
    Sydney [Australia]

  • Jen

    I’m with you. I’ve been noticing the cropping up of gluten free for about four years now. I’ve been on major elimination diets in the past, while nursing my food sensitive babies, and also to manage my IBS. I remember being partly excited that more options were showing up for people with food allergies and intolerances, but simultaneously pissed that there weren’t more egg-free, or nut-free options. Like…come on…Celiacs aren’t the only ones with problems.

    But now, as I’m feeding three gluten and dairy intolerant kids, I am REALLY struggling with the fact that I know a lot of this stuff is crap, particularly the breads. What’s a mindful mama to do?

    On good days, I remind myself I’m doing the best I can…

  • amy

    i can understand why you’re not thrilled about the proliferation of “gluten-free” as a marketing tool. but there may be hope! i think about veganism and how for years vegans were bombarded with dairy substitutes (in particular) that were usually subpar, at best, and inedible, at worst.

    now there are amazing ice cream analogs made from coconut milk and it seems like every day there’s an innovation in some new cheese-like substance. (myself, i am wary of all of them. it’s one of the things i’d just rather do without…)

    so i guess i’m saying there’s probably a bright side. it won’t come from Big Food – or Medium Food, even, but it will come from lots of smaller companies recognizing the need for quality gluten-free products that don’t contain all the junk that an informed consumer wants.

    so…that’s a GOOD thing, right?!