26 October 2013

Gluten free – The Healthier Option?

It is probably an accepted fact that gluten free is not a fad. It's here to stay.

The number of people I meet on a daily basis (including myself) who cannot tolerate grain based products is overwhelming. Data from Food For Thought shows that between 2010 – 2012, the number of adults aged 18-49 who cut down on gluten or gave it up all together rose two percent from 24% to 26%. In adults over the age of 50, the figure increased to 30% in 2012.

It’s great that there we are in an age where GF products are available in abundance. In fact, in London, UK, there is a two day event that is dedicated to gluten and allergy free living. It is normally held around May/ June time.

I regularly attend this show myself as its good to see what new products are available.

Thing is…gluten free does not necessarily mean healthy.

Take the show I attend for instance. Whilst there is plenty to choose from, I’ve noticed that in many of these GF products the first ingredient is sugar. Admittedly, I used to buy these products justifying myself by saying that at least the product I was buying had fewer ingredients. Who am I kidding? The first ingredient is sugar woman! It is the worse thing anyone can ingest, so how the hell was I justifying it I don’t know.

I’m not perfect, but I am fully aware of what I’m buying (and eating).

You may relate to having difficulties with gluten and do your best to avoid grain based products so opt for GF alternatives, but have you had a good look at the ingredients?

Not so long ago, I made a bakewell tart. (I hadn’t made it for ages…ok, years!) I used gluten free flour to make the pastry, filtered water, organic butter and a pinch of Himalayan Crystal salt. I also used organic butter for the filling along with, almond flour and essence, no sugar raspberry jam, free range eggs, Xylitol (sweetener like sugar).

Ingredients that are easy to recognise right?

Ok, now compare mine to the Mrs Crimbles gluten free version:

Sugar, vegetable oil and fats, rice flour, eggs, coconut, potato starch, humectant (glycerine), glucose syrup, apricots, strawberries, water, dextrose, rice starch, stabilisers (locust bean, gum, sodium alginate, modified corn starch, pectin), almonds (0.5%), flavorings, salt, invert sugar, raising agents (sodium bicarbonate, glucono-delta-lactone), lemon juice, preservative: potassium sorbate, acidity regulators (citric acid, calcium citrate, calcium chloride), elderberry juice, emulsifiers: mono – and diglycerides of fatty acids, plant extracts

What the hell? Not only is sugar the first ingredient, but you also have more sugar added: Dextrose, glucose syrup and invert sugar.

Its sugar all the way baby!

Ok, besides from the sugar, sugar and more sugar, there are other non foods such as flavourings (from what source?), gum – as in the chewing kind? Preservatives and calcium chloride.

Calcium chloride is used in food as a firming agent (it attracts and holds water); basically it prevents the food falling apart because unlike gluten products, gluten free products don’t have the gluten to hold the ingredients in place. Calcium chloride is also used in refrigeration plants and for ice and dust control on roads. Nice!

Glucono-delta-lactone. Glucono what? I could only find the wikipedia explanation for it:

Glucono delta-lactone (GDL), also known as gluconolactone, is a food additive with the E number E575[3] used as a sequestrant, anacidifier,[1] or a curing, pickling, or leavening agent. It is a lactone (cyclic ester) of D-gluconic acid. Pure GDL is a white odorlesscrystalline powder.

Yeah, really helpful. Ok, let’s just say it best to avoid it. Its not food so you don’t need to ingest it.

All I can say is, the more ingredients it has its best left on the shelf. It’s frustrating not being able to purchase a GF product that has food only ingredients. But then, it wouldn't last for a year (or more) or so on the shelf then would it?

If in doubt, stick to making your own cakes, cookies and other indulgences.