Earlier this week pop star Miley Cyrus provoked a bit of a controversy over gluten-free diets when she reacted to speculation about her sudden weight loss by announcing on Twitter: ‘For everyone calling me anorexic, I have a gluten and lactose allergy. It’s not about weight it’s about health. Gluten is crapppp anyway!’
She also tweeted: ‘Everyone should try no gluten for a week! The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing. You won’t go back!’
Her comments caused dieticians and nutritionists to advise against the dangers of cutting out an entire food group and warn that gluten-free foods may even cause people to put on weight.
How Healthy are Free From Foods?
Most people associate Free From foods with being healthy, but we tend to forget that they are highly processed convenience food. Some Free From milk products for example may have no added calcium and very little nutrition.
In an article in The Daily Mail, Rachel Begun, a food industry consultant, is quoted telling Today.com:
People who go gluten-free may gain weight if they rely mostly on highly-processed gluten free foods, many of which tend to be higher in fat, calories and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts. Gluten-free foods also tend to lack fiber that fills us up and can help us manage our weight.
Free From is a Growth Industry
One thing’s for certain, the Free From food industry is growing fast. Retailers are stimulating awareness and interest and we are seeing new Free From areas and categories like baby food and snacks appearing. Health conscious consumers are more aware these days and incorporate Free From foods as part of a healthier lifestyle. According to new research from Leatherhead Food Research:
The market for gluten-free foods in the US and Western Europe is believed to be worth around USD3.5bn in 2010. Much of the anticipated growth in the gluten-free sector is linked to ‘healthy’ perceptions of gluten-free foods, particularly amongst groups of consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of their diet, health and well-being and therefore actively seek ‘suitable for/free from’ products without having a diagnosed allergy.
All this is a far cry from the early 1990s I was diagnosed with a wheat intolerance. While I quickly adapted to eating rice cakes, Ryvita and oatcakes in place of bread and pasta, what I hadn’t counted on was the sense of panic my wheat-free regime induced in friends who invited me for dinner.
Even though I would tell them beforehand that rice and potatoes were fine, but bread, pasta and couscous were out, it didn’t help. I could tell that catering for me was a chef’s nightmare and the dinner party invitations began to wane.
Gluten Free, Dairy Free Diets
Today it’s a different story. Most people know somebody who is on either a gluten-free or diary-free diet and supermarkets are stocked full of Free From products. Even my local corner shop has a Free From section and I’ve come across bakeries in rural Dorset that sell gluten-free cakes. I’d go as far as to say that gluten-free is trendy – a dietary fashion statement.
In fact Free From foods are so mainstream that there is even the annual FreeFrom Food Awards which celebrates innovation and imagination in the food industry in creating Free From foods.
Free From foods are definitely getting better and tastier. But it looks like the jury is still out on how healthy they actually are for us.