Beyond the 1 percent of the population that suffers from celiac disease, gluten-free eating has changed in the past few years as the North American mega-trend matures. Here are 4 ways the gluten-free fad has evolved, and tips for you to choose healthier wheat-free options.
1. Gluten-free returns to its whole-grain roots
The trend started a decade ago not by celiacs but by a core group of health conscious eaters who wanted to cut back on processed foods, according to Hartman Group (a Seattle-based trend forecasting company). They wanted to eat less refined flour and more whole grains, and sought high-quality substitutes for wheat flour bread, cookies and pasta. They also chose other cultures’ foods that traditionally never had gluten.
Your take-away? If you’re not celiac, read labels carefully and eat only whole grain, no matter what kind it is, and opt for healthy “ethnic” food such as Japanese buckwheat soba noodles, Spanish polenta and Mexican corn tortillas.
Mainstream refined gluten-free products are not selling as well for two reasons: 1. even loyal fad-followers realize that most don’t taste very good 2. they don’t always reduce symptoms associated with gluten like skin issues, bloating, abdominal pain and weight gain.
Your take-away? Over-processed foods made from rice, sorghum and potato flour have been stripped of the fibre and nutrients that satisfy, and can be difficult to digest, even if they don’t include wheat. Opt out.
Grains such as spelt, farro, kamut, buckwheat, amaranth and millet take the spotlight. They offer diverse, robust flavours, and are usually used whole in products (rather than refined with germ and bran removed). Some have small amounts of gluten, and some don’t.
Your take-away? Be more adventurous with these grains, readily available in bulk food sections. Bake with their flour and substitute the whole grain in savoury dishes, replacing rice and pasta.
With awareness that growing one type of wheat year after year reduces minerals and other nutrients in the soil, chefs and other food connoisseurs are pushing for diversification. They also promote that whole vegetables, with their unique flavours and textures, are free of gluten without having to be labeled gluten-free.
Your take-away? Go wheat-free and gourmet by experimenting with sweet potato pancakes, zucchini spaghetti, layered eggplant lasagna, chickpea flour bread, and dehydrated kale as snack “crackers”.