Fad Dieting: Are you gluten-free?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

  • Some gluten-free treats.

    Some gluten-free treats.

Written by Abigel Lemak

Now, more than ever, the food industry is turning into a market of organized stickers, tags and labels. Fat-free. Sugar-free. And now, Gluten-free. Consumers become concentrative squinters as they scan over the countless boxes and cans, searching for the “right” kind of foods.  

“I think people tend to be drawn to fad diets in general because they offer an appealing quick-fix. A gluten free diet seems to be the newest in a long list of fad diets,” said Lindzie O’Reilly, Student Health Services Nutritionist. “I would compare the current gluten-free craze to the Atkins craze of 10 years ago.” 

Cities like Guelph and Toronto have quickly tapped into the “hip” market of specialty foods in order to cash in on the many diet and cleansing regimes some nutritionists swear by. “Health” has become a source of marketability, which often means diet.  

“Carbohydrates tend to get a bad reputation in general and the recent publication of books such as "Wheat Belly" have only added more fuel to the gluten free diet craze,” said O’Reilly.

Behind the craze of gluten-free diets in the wake of William Davis’ Wheat Belly are people who are chronically unable to digest gluten as a result of hypersensitivity in the small intestine that can lead to more serious complications.   This relatively small percentage of the population has no choice but to live by a gluten-free diet.

“There is a growing population of individuals who medically require a gluten-free diet,” said Jennifer Green, SNAP Coordinator. “People with celiac disease must remove gluten from their diet as it is the only known treatment for the condition. It is not simply a "fad diet" for everyone.”

O’Reilly goes on to underline the benefits and potential disadvantages of gluten free dieting.

“Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are very serious conditions that require individuals to follow a gluten free diet for life. If you do not suffer from one of these conditions, however, following a gluten free diet is not better for your health. In fact, it may actually be worse,” said O’Reilly. “Gluten free products are typically made from refined grains such as white rice and corn starch. This means that they are low in fibre and do not keep you full for very long. In addition, the government requires that wheat cereals and breads be fortified with iron. Gluten free products, on the other hand, are not meaning that they are lower in nutrients.”

Gluten free is often marketed as a healthier option to their gluten-filled counterparts. This guided misconception can lead to unhealthy snacking.

“Although gluten-free is the only healthy diet for an individual with celiac disease, not all gluten free products are healthy,” said Green. For example, gluten-free brownies and cakes are not healthier than brownies and cakes that contain gluten.”

In some cases, gluten-free products can contain ingredients that are typically more expensive (such as coconut flour), but more often are jacked up in price as a result of their exclusive clientele. This can be frustrating for students who have no choice but to follow a gluten-free diet. 

“Food companies and restaurants take advantage of fad diets because they see an opportunity to make money,” said O’Reilly. “During the atkins craze, even Mcdonald's began to offer an ‘atkins plate.’”

Luckily, there are many options on campus for student suffering from gluten intolerance. It’s important, however, to make sure you’re getting the nutrients required for healthy living and to remain aware of the marketing ploys used to cash in on current diet trends. 

“Hospitality Services at the University of Guelph provides many options to accommodate students and staff who are following a gluten-free diet due to medical conditions,” said Green. “This is to ensure these customers who require a gluten-free diet can eat safely and in a healthy way.”

For more information you can visit the SNAP website here or the Canadian Celiac Association here.

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