Sunday, May 22, 2011

Around The Culinary World

Good evening everyone! Welcome back to a new week of cooking and blogging here at Out Of The Culinary. This week, we're going to get started with a topic that is all over the grocery store shelves nowadays; gluten (or, the lack thereof). The current 'buzz phrase' in the cooking world is 'gluten free'. For some reason, people have it in their heads that gluten free = healthier and therefore they must opt for the gluten free version of every product. Now, for the 1% of the population (not an arbitrary number, that is actually the percentage) of the population that is affected by gluten - these products are a lifesaver. But, does the general public see any benefit from gluten free products? Or is this just another buzz word that is taking customers by storm - so marketers are running with it?

I found a fascinating article in the May 23, 2011 issue of Time Magazine. The article, titled 'Bad-Mouthing Gluten. What's behind the craze for gluten-free food?' was written by Katy Steinmetz. If Time would publish their entire article online, I would simply link the article and move on. They don't do this. However, I feel the points made in this article are very interesting and worth a read, so I'm going to quote the full article below. Again, I want to stress what follows are not my words, they are the work of Katy Steinmetz and Time Magazine. All credit goes to them for the follow paragraphs:

Illustration by Sam Kerr 

For the estimated 1% of the population with celiac disease, gluten is a kryptonite that can trigger digestive distress and cause long-term health problems. (It's also problematic for a slice with less severe gluten sensitivity, though there are no solid numbers on its prevalence.) But for the vast majority of us, gluten is a harmless protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley that is best known for giving bread its fluffiness. 
Nonetheless, "gluten free" has become a major selling point, as if it were synonym for "low carb". Gulten-free Betty Crocker cake mix and gluten-free beer now line grocery-store shelves. There are gluten-free menus, gluten-free Communion wafers and gluten-free lifestyle tips from the likes of Gwyneth  Paltrow. Americans spent a record $2.6 billion last year to banish gluten from their lives , about the same amount they spent on cat food. 
But it is the trend followers rather than the celiac sufferers who are doing the bulk of the buying. A recent survey by marketing research firm Packaged Facts showed that only 8% to 12% of people who purchased gluten-free products did so because of gluten intolerance. Most simply thought these products were healthier or of higher quality or could help them manage their weight.
"It's becoming extremely fashionable to the point that it's almost alarming" says Dr. Stefano Guandalini, founder of the Celiac Disease Center at the University Of Chicago. He and other gluten gurus say most people on gluten-free diets don't actually need to be: they've either jumped on the bandwagon or mis-diagnosed themselves as gluten-sensitive, a conidion that can't be tested for and is treated only by changes in diet. 
Food manufacturers are rushing to get a slice of the market, but the Food and Drug Administration has yet to set a standard for gluten-free labeling. that's hardly dire for people avoiding gluten for non-medical reasons, but for those with celiac disease, a tiny amount can cause severe autoimmune reaction. And without regulation, the risk of that happening increases. "Vendors or restaurants will feel it's just a fad, it's another crazy diet and it doesn't matter what we feed to these people," says Tiara Rogers, 34, who has a close friend with celiac disease. 
Rogers recently gathered with other activists in Washington to pressure the FDA (and to garner attention by building a 11-foot, 64 layer gluten-free cake). One event fresh on their minds was a mis-labeling case in North Carolina, where a con man slapped "gluten free" on regular bread, making dozens sick. He as given an 11 year prison sentence last month.
Many health experts stress that gluten is not a dietary evil. "Think of all the population on the globe that have existed on wheat or other products that have gluten in them," says Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina. As for supposed weight-loss benefits, a gluten-free pretzel is not going to take off pounds any faster than a regular pretzel. In fact, if you avoid only gluten, rather than the carb-packed foods it's typically in, you will likely be getting more calories, with fewer nutrients, says Guandalini, because many substitutes end up being high in surrogate carbs and low in fiber. That's why celiac patients who go on prescribed gluten-free diets often see their body mass index increase, not decrease. 
Of course, people are free to eat what they wish, but "a gluten-gree diet is not necessarily a healthy diet," says Dr. Peter Green of Columbia University's Celiac Disease Center. "It's something people seem to take on without being aware of the effects."  
I thought that article was brilliantly done. For me, it did two things; first, it showed what exactly the problem with gluten was (I didn't know there was an issue with it for some people) and secondly, it showed why removing gluten from your diet is not a sure fire way to lose weight. In fact, (shockingly) you could gain weight.

So, there you have it folks. Gluten free is (for roughly 99% of the population) a fad diet with no actual grounding. Feel free to eat all the gluten you want. It's those carbs you should be cutting out!

Other 'quick hit' stories for this week:

10 Ways To Sweeten Food Without Sugar 

This Man Just Ate His 25,000th Big Mac 


That's all we have for you this evening. Another full week of recipes are lined up - I'll take to the kitchen on Tuesday and Maggie will close us on for the week with a very unique dish on Thursday. Be sure to stop back in Tuesday night to see what we've got cooking. Until then,



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