Dear gluten-avoiders. You've been scammed.
Have you ever paid the extra $4 for a gluten-free pizza base or selected the gluten-free desert thinking it's a slightly healthier option? Think again.
As a person who has been diagnosed with coeliac disease, a little part of me dies every time I walk past the bakery and smell freshly baked bread. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. What's even more gut wrenching is that it's on sale for $3.50. The only edible gluten-free bread I can find costs $8.50 and tastes a little like a crumbly block of cardboard.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. When people with coeliac disease consume gluten, the protein irritates and inflames the small bowel, damaging the lining. It can cause a range of symptoms from cramps, to vomiting, to other nasty "events" no one really wants to read about. But most healthy small bowels will happily digest gluten and move it through to the large bowel for the next stage of processing.
So when I see non-coeliacs who haven't been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance walk past the crusty heavenly goodness and pick up what they think is a healthier option, I can't help but feel a little frustrated.
"Gluten free" does not mean carb free. It certainly doesn't mean sugar free and it is definitely not guilt free.
Wheat flour is often replaced by other carbohydrates like rice flour, potato flour or cornflour, or a mixture of all three.
My GF cheesecake has just as much naughtiness, creaminess, sweetness, and fattiness as your cheesecake - it's just twice as expensive.
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Bupa Dietitian Gemma Cosgriff warns a gluten-free diet might lack fibre and the right energy you need to fuel your day.
"Gluten itself doesn’t offer special nutritional benefits. But the many whole grains that contain gluten do. They provide vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fibre – which helps to keep our bowel regular," she said.
“Some people without a formal diagnosis might find they suffer from bloating and even perhaps cramps when they consume gluten. If this sounds like you, I’d suggest you visit your GP to get some initial and important tests done, and if it ends up as a sensitivity, then it’s important to try to replace gluten-free options with other nutritious replacements.”
Food producers have jumped on the exploding gluten-free market, recognising the potential to exploit the common misconception that this fad is a "healthier option."
A small box of one particular brand of corn flakes will cost you $2.50. The same brand's new "gluten-free" option, which is effectively the same minus a sprinkling of malt, will set you back $4.40. Don't get me wrong, I am personally thrilled corn flakes are back on my menu, but if you don't have to, PLEASE don't waste your money.
If you think you may have a problem with gluten, visit your GP and ask to be tested for coeliac disease. If you do have coeliac disease, cutting out most gluten won't help. Even that tiny sprinkling of malt hiding on your breakfast cereal is enough to cause damage, which can take up to 9 months to fully heal. But if the test comes back negative, your taste buds and your hip pocket will thank you.