Why I Don't Buy Gluten-Free
Thursday, February 28, 2013
A few blogs ago I said that I am mostly low carb, but with a few exceptions. Sometimes I eat steel cut oats for breakfast, and half sandwiches for lunch. I eat low quantities of wheat and grains because I found most low carb substitutes to be unsuitable. Someone wrote to me and asked why that is, and why I don't choose some of the gluten free options.
An interesting question, and I thought it would make a good blog topic.
Back in the 80s, we were told that high fat diets were the cause of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Health conscious consumers immediately threw away their lard and butter and replaced it with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. These same consumers also noted how much fat was in yogurt, Chips-Ahoy-Cookies and tortillas. Food producers reacted to this new wave of marketing and reduced the amount of fat. When this happened, consumers complained that low-fat food tasted terrible. In order to make food taste better, they added more sugar. Take a look at a cup of Dannon low-fat yogurt. It has almost 0 fat, but 26g of sugar. That's as much as a Snickers bar. Snackwell's cookies were extremely popular with my girls dorm in college because they were 'healthy' low-fat. Let's be honest. Snackwell's taste ok, but do they really compare with grandma's full butter cookies? Not a chance. Fat is a flavor enhancer, and so is salt and sugar. All chefs know there is an optimal balance between all three to make a person say, "YUM!" Take any one of those away, and you have, "Meh."
Let's fast forward to today. Low-carb diets are becoming more popular with some people. Food producers are always ready to capitalize on latest trends. So they have started introducing gluten-free and low-carb tortillas, cookies, chips and numerous other foods. But be very wary that they aren't pulling the same 'fat becomes sugar' switcharoo. Just because something is gluten-free doesn't mean it's low carb. Those of us that follow low carb generally do so to avoid the insulin spikes that trigger weight gain and shut off body fat burn.
In general, I feel that most gluten free food is best for people who have wheat sensitivities. Gluten-free bread typically uses potato starch or tapioca starch instead of wheat. These starches will be broken down and absorbed immediately as though it were refined white sugar. Starch IS sugar. It is a carb that is made of glucose chains. If you are buying gluten free food that is made with potato or tapioca starch, you haven't accomplished anything.
There are some gluten free foods that are low-carb. I'm a particular fan of flax these days. Flax is not a grain - it is a seed. It is low glycemic and rich in Omega-3. When ground, it can't be used entirely as a flour substitute because...well...it's gluten free. Wheat gluten makes awesome bread, cookies, and cakes and that's that. I've tried many, many recipes that claim to be just as good, but I must be a really picky customer because I can tell. It's not the same.
I have made a pretty awesome flaxseed tortilla, though. My husband and I love a flaxseed cracker brand called "Mary's Gone Crackers". But I very carefully check packages that say they are flaxseed. Most of them are wheat mixed with a little flax.
I wrote back in my Christmas blog why I was baking full sugar/wheat cookies and breads. What works best for me is to have a little bit of the 'real thing', rather than try to fill gaps with substitutes. Sometimes I like the substitutes better, like in the case of "Mary's Gone Crackers", but most of the time I don't. I'm baking a chocolate torte for my husband's birthday this coming Sunday, but that will be our first dessert since Christmas.
Most mornings I prefer to eat eggs, but there are days when I need to move faster. I freeze batches of steel-cut oatmeal for mornings where I'm really rushed, and I'm out of eggs. I make sandwiches with thin cuts of bread because there really isn't a more portable and convenient lunch on the go. It can be eaten without utensils, which sometimes I need. If I don't prepare these foods, then I'll end up holding a fast food wrapper instead, and I definitely don't want that. If I had gluten intolerance, I'd use the gluten-free options. But since I'm not, I'm not gaining anything in these situations.
Back before I started school, it was easy to completely avoid wheat and grain. I didn't need portable food, or a fast breakfast. Now that I do, this is what I've found fits my needs. I'll keep doing it as long as it hasn't hurt my weight goals. If it does, then I'll adjust. A quick count on a food tracker shows that I am still under 80g carbs per day, well under the 160-240g I used to eat.