I consider the women in my family to be fairly health conscious. When we go shopping at our local grocery stores, my mom limits the junk food we get and bulks up on fruits, veggies and various types of Greek yogurt. My mother’s food selections affect my perception of what is okay to eat, and what is not. This meant I ate salad almost everyday when I was growing up, and failed to let the likes of Easy Mac and Toaster Strudel pass my lips.
On a typical shopping trip, my mom and I will check out the bread first, then the fresh produce and then the milk and orange juice. When we come to the end of aisle nine with its shelves piled high with ramen, I brace myself. We get to the snack aisle, and my mom loses her mind. Boxes made out of recycled paper line the shelves, each brandishing sleek advertising and trendy new logos. But only one thing stands out to my mother: gluten-free. Gluten-free anything is my mom’s vice. It doesn’t matter what it is — if a cracker is gluten-free, my mom thinks it’s the supreme leader of the cracker industry. She’ll get one box to try the gluten-free item, two more boxes to share with my grandma and aunt and another one to place on the snack table at her office. My mother and countless others are part of a gluten-free cult, which has captured the attention of the health-conscious nation over the course of the past few years. This is all fine and well, and I commend those who take an active role in their dietary and exercise plans. I also understand that there are some people who legitimately cannot eat gluten due to an allergy or certain health condition. I’m sure almost everyone has heard of gluten, and I’m sure most people think it is an unhealthy substance that contributes to the obesity epidemic in the United States. But before we go on, I will ask only this: do you even know what gluten is?
For starters, gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some other grains. Gluten gives dough its elasticity, which helps it rise, retain its shape and gives the finished product some chewiness. So if a diet is gluten-free, it also means that same diet is also without countless vitamins and nutrients that are provided by whole grains. Many also do not understand how difficult it is to truly maintain a gluten-free diet. Think back … have you ever had a sandwich with whole grain bread and a side of zesty gluten-free chips? Your sandwich-chip extravaganza is quite hypocritical. The use of the gluten-free chips is rendered useless by the consumption of the whole grain bread. Do you understand what I’m getting at? In reality, if you don’t have a serious allergy or disease, gluten is quite good for you.
Now that we’ve established gluten as a healthy protein that is meant to help the body, let’s apply this gluten-free phenomenon to a real-life situation. In the restaurant industry, chefs and other cooking staff have become more empathetic with their customers’ dietary and allergy needs. With this gluten-free movement, many who dine out claim their choice to eat gluten-free is due to an allergy, which is often false. Even though waiters know that the gluten allergies of their customers are usually non-existent, they are still required to tell the cooking staff, just in case. This leads to a strenuous and unnecessary cooking and cleaning process that aggravates all restaurant employees, from the busboys to the administration. When a customer who does not have a gluten-free allergy tells a waiter their preferences, they are not only overworking the establishment, but they are also taking away the severity of actual health problems that are caused by gluten.
The gluten-free cult is doing more harm than good. The gluten-free displays in grocery stores are simply marketing and advertising tactics to get average Americans to think they’re eating more healthily by buying their gluten-free product. Only 1% of Americans have celiac disease, but the U.S. gluten-free market is worth an estimated $23 billion dollars to accommodate the gluten-free fakers of today. We need to realize that gluten is a substance that promotes good health and builds strength. We need to stop downplaying the graveness of gluten allergies and celiac disease. We need to be more knowledgeable. But there is some good news … there is gluten in both Easy Mac and Toaster Strudel. Kids, things are looking up.