More and more shops are stocking gluten-free products. Gluten-free is seemingly reaching everywhere now, with some labelling it as a fad. But, if your family is perhaps going gluten-free, here’s some ramifications I’ve experienced from my own family doing so.
Firstly, let’s cover what gluten is. It’s a protein composite found in the grains wheat, barley and rye, and basically causes dough to cook in a desirable way. It’s also sometimes added to foods as a stabilising agent. The problem comes because some people have a reaction to it. In some people when gluten reaches the digestive tract and is exposed to the cells of the immune system, they mistakenly believe it’s a foreign invader and so the immune system attacks the gluten. However the immune system may go further and attack the intestinal wall itself, leading to degeneration of the intestinal wall and causing negative symptoms.
The inability to handle gluten is known as celiac disease – a hereditary autoimmune disorder, with a wide range of symptoms including pain and discomfort in the digestive tract, chronic constipation and diarrhoea, anaemia and fatigue, and more. However, and this is where the controversy comes in, there is also gluten sensitivity (known as ‘non-celiac gluten sensitivity’) which has similar symptoms to celiac disease but is not full-blown celiac disease. However there isn’t a clear definition of gluten sensitivity and there’s no scientific consensus as to whether it actually exists medically or not. Furthermore, there’s some studies showing gluten can cause negative effects in people with neither celiac disease nor a sensitivity, and gluten may have a connection to some neurological disorders. So is celiac disease the only disorder caused by gluten or not? Into this confusion steps products marketing themselves as gluten-free, and the marketing bandwagon confuses things even more. It needs to be said that research is still ongoing around gluten consumption.
My family is gluten-free. Not that we have celiac disease, and I’m not going to argue here any proposed health benefits of going gluten-free but instead my experience.
How gluten-free has affected our family life:
- It takes more planning and it’s harder to eat out
- We eat better
- Many restaurants do not cater for gluten-free
- Many fast-food outlets do not cater for gluten-free
- Fortunately, most cafes do have gluten-free options. Although these are often only slices or cakes, which is great if I want a sweet pick-up, but not so great if we’re buying a meal out
- At friend’s houses we have to turn down offers of biscuits, snacks, etc. It’s hard to be the only one not snacking when there’s a bowl of chips on the table
- We have to bring our own birthday cake to birthday parties!
- Thus, while out of the house we generally have to pack lunches or buy from the supermarket
- If you ignore gluten for a moment, bottom-line is that most foods containing gluten are junk foods – hamburgers, fries, biscuits, cakes, and so on – which are foods that we really shouldn’t be eating that often anyway. Take these off the menu and, by default, we have to eat more whole foods – fruit, veges, meat, and so on. This means we just generally eat healthier as a family
- It can be more expensive
- Reading labels, to check for gluten, makes us more aware of other potentially adverse ingredients in the food. Something may be gluten-free, but may be loaded with artificial flavours, and so we may not purchase it.
- We can’t drink most beers – but we’ve never been beer drinkers anyway (wine is still on the ok list!)
- I say “can” because while many gluten-free products do cost more, buying gluten-free food does not necessarily mean buying these products. Like I mentioned above, we eat more whole food in our diet – which, in actual fact, is often cheaper than buying packaged, processed food
- Although, processed food and baked goods certainly taste good! So we usually bake our own when we have cravings – for cakes, puddings, desserts, and so on. Baking at home usually works out cheaper than buying pre-made
In the end, gluten-free has been positive for our family, even though it means we have to plan meals more thoroughly and can’t eat out as much.
While research is still out on the health detriments of eating gluten, it won’t hurt to experiment by going gluten-free for a period to see if it has any positive effect on your health, waist-line, or family. If not, I think we can all agree that doughnuts taste good.
Max is the Father of two young children, a small business owners, and a student studying a Bachelor of Business Studies at Massey University. He also writes online at obstaclemethod.movementunleashed.com.