Gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy

cream cheese

Shopping for bread at the health shop is always fun.

They used to be confused when I made a beeline for the bread freezer rather than stopping to chat about goji berries and the benefits of juicing. Now either I’ve become much quicker (in and out before they’ve blinked) or they’re actually getting used to me.

You see, I am not a healthy person. My idea of a balanced meal is a light salad (read: lettuce from a packet with some cheese cubes), followed by crisps dipped in cream cheese with a few spoons of Nutella for dessert. Like, that’s me doing well. On a bad day, it’s just cup ramen (with glass noodles) or a spaghetti (corn) and tomato-onion mix.

Last weekend when I was paying for my delicious sweet potato bread at the health store, the shopkeeper tried to make small talk. It went something like this:

Her: “Oh, this bread with a thin layer of butter is just divine!”

Me: “Oh, yea. You should try it with cheese. Toasted sandwich with this and a processed cheese slice in the middle? To die for.”

Her: *stunned silence*

Me: “Bye!”

Gluten-free and good health?

I don’t really know when or why being gluten-free became about good health. I think it was something to do with Banting? It’s funny because a lot of the gluten free alternatives I eat aren’t healthy at all. Take, for instance, this box of biscuits I have on my desk.

The ingredients list: Chocolate chips, corn flour, sunflower oil, sugar, corn starch, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, cocoa powder, soy flour, raising agents, salt, soya lecithin.

I’m no dietitian, but I’m pretty sure that if I asked my dietitian, she’d slap that box right out of my greedy fingers.

Yet, this box has a prime spot in the health shop where they sneer at anything that’s not “organic” and print packaging with vegetable ink (yes, really).

And this is not just a “bad brand.” Gluten is a great binding agent, and foods that don’t get to use gluten often substitute with other great binders: sugar and oil.

Being gluten-free and eating healthy

There are healthy ways to be gluten free. They involve a lot of vegetables and something called psyllium husk. And once in a while, usually at the start of a new year, I make an effort to eat gluten-free rolled oat muesli and cut down on the crisps. But the human body actually needs a bunch of things that are usually packaged with gluten.

“If you’re determined to go gluten-free, it’s important to know that it can set you up for some nutritional deficiencies,” says the Harvard Health Blog.

Our typical box cereals and breads may hide many sins, but they’re also fortified with vitamins and minerals that we don’t get in a lot of other ways anymore.

Things that you don’t even think about on a normal diet suddenly become an effort, like fibre. If you don’t get enough of that stuff, the consequences are way more severe and come upon you way more quickly than if you eat processed cheese.

I won’t go into details.

Suffice it to say, gluten-free is not a synonym for healthy. And while I’m grateful that the health shops keep regular stocks of the bread I need, I look forward to the day that I can find it at Spar, alongside the crisps and Nutella, where it belongs.