A new study by the NPD group shows that 29% of Americans are now trying to cut gluten out of their diets, most of them just cause. Every time another person makes this foolish decision, my life gets harder.
I've been a Celiac for 14 years. My mom was diagnosed back in 1993. I am here to tell you first-hand that going gluten-free is not a almond flour paved path to the GOOP holy trifecta of increased energy, a dewy complexion and perfectly fitting skinny jeans. It is just a diet that is medically necessary for some of us and no better and probably even a bit worse for the rest of you. (If you suspect you are one of those for whom it might be medically necessary, I wholly endorse you giving it a shot, but, please, take it seriously and see a doctor.)
When my mom first got diagnosed 20 years ago our family would take long Sunday drives to the other side of the San Fernando Valley for a loaf of bread that was only slightly better than vile and weighed more than my biology textbook. Lost and vulnerable, she ate a lot of Lay's potato chips that year. By the time I was diagnosed in 1999 things were a little better. This was about the time when Whole Foods markets began popping up all over America and most of them would dedicate a few shelves to palatable gluten free goods.
So when gluten-free started trending a few years ago and I could finally understand what this red velvet cupcake phenomenon was all about, I was thrilled. Pizza delivery! Deli sandwiches! Whoopie pies! Chicken nuggets! Suddenly gluten-free was everywhere. But this was when things took also took a turn for the worst.
You see, when something that is medically necessary for some of us becomes something cool and trendy for the rest of the world, shit gets messed up. Waiters, thinking I am just another ankle-boot wearing Gwyneth wannabe, no longer take me seriously. It is actually harder for me to eat out now than it was a few years ago because a little dusting of flour on a piece of flounder equals a few days in bed for me.
And those red velvet cupcakes? They are now often stuffed alongside their gluten-containing counterparts in bakery displays. Considering even a few splashes of soy sauce, in which wheat is a minor ingredient, can trigger my celiac, a few crumbs of something not gluten-free is just not an option for me. Now I am nostalgic for the days when we were a fringe movement instead of a Miley Cyrus-endorsed lifestyle.
Though here I am, going on and on explaining why you should stop eating gluten-free food just to protect people like me, when you should really stop eating it to protect yourself.
As I mentioned already, gluten-free is not the answer to your dieting needs. Remember when we all went gaga for fat-free diets in the late 90s and guiltlessly swallowed entire packages of Snackwells devils food cookies and then couldn't figure out why we weren't losing weight? Exactly. I have met many a celiac over the years, and I promise we wouldn't all pass your supermarket tabloids "bikini body" test. Considering that many gluten-free goods are higher in fat to substitute for the missing gluten — which literally holds baked goods together — a gluten-free diet can actually leave us worse off, weight-wise.
For those of you who swear off gluten not because you want to lose weight, but just because you think it will make you healthier: please stick with the whole wheat. Fiber is one of the most important things you can eat for health's sake and it is extremely difficult (and pricey, see below) to get your hands on when you are strictly gluten-free. Also, for people with no sensitivity to gluten, a slice of whole wheat bread is by no means worse for you than a slice of teff, garbanzo bean and brown rice fiber bread. And the whole wheat bread will be, at least, one million times more delicious.
Also, this life is expensive! Literally, on average, 242% more expensive, according to researchers from the Dalhousie Medical School in Canada. Let me break this down for you: pretzels can run $5-$6 a bag, individual sized pizzas around $15-$20 at restaurants and even $11 for crappy tasting ones from the market, and cupcakes and muffins are in the $4 range. I just spent $12 on a whole-grain gluten-free loaf the other day and didn't think twice about it, because this is just my life. But it doesn't have to be yours.