Food & Drink

Gluten-free: Fad Diet or a Modern Way to Dine

Gluten free pasta
Gluten free pasta
Credits: Christian Cable, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

More people than ever are turning to gluten free diets, and the effects of these choices means that our super market aisles and restaurant menus are evolving. Food and Drink writer, Chloe May, considers whether this is just another fad diet trend or the modern way of dining.

The term ‘gluten-free’ often creates a general sense of skepticism.  Earlier this year a clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live went viral after the show conducted an experiment where they asked people who lived on a gluten-free diet what gluten actually was (for reference it’s the protein found in wheat, barley and rye). An astounding number of people could not tell the interviewer what it was that they were excluding from their diet, leading to the conclusion that there are people who, as Kimmel himself spoofs, ‘Don’t eat gluten because someone in their yoga class told them not to.’

There is a big difference between those who have to eat gluten free and those who choose to eat gluten-free. I was diagnosed with coeliac disease ten months ago. However I know people who feel as atrocious, if not worse than me, after eating gluten yet receive negative results from coeliac tests.

From my experience I can only describe being gluten-free as a general nuisance.  First gluten free products are astronomically expensive with a small bag of gluten-free pasta costing double the cost of a kilogram bag of regular pasta (however if you’re diagnosed with coeliac you can usually get them on prescription). Secondly after discovering that a crumb could make me very sick I had to seriously consider how I used my shared student kitchen. Using the toaster became a big no-no, I have to have a separate butter in case pesky glutinous crumbs make their way in and I even have to be careful about kissing my boyfriend after he’s eaten a sandwich.

Bread in gluten free diets
Credits: Will, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Yet coeliacs are only part of the gluten-free epidemic. Gluten-free diets are often seen as fashionable with health nuts avoiding gluten in the hope that it will help them to lose weight and reduce bloating and exhaustion. Although simply switching to a gluten free slice of toast in the morning won’t make much of a difference to your weight and will seriously damage your bank account, cutting out gluten means less reliance on processed foods. This often results in individuals increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables and beginning to cook from scratch more frequently. People have been known to describe going gluten-free as giving them more energy and helping them lose weight, I struggle to believe that it could make such a massive difference to someone without gluten sensitivity, but I endorse any diet that encourages a greater intake of fruits and vegetables.

There has been much speculation as to whether the ‘gluten-free fad’ will eventually die out. As the only treatment for coeliac disease is a lifelong gluten free diet, I doubt it will from my end. What’s more diagnosis of coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity are increasing by the day, as well as those who adopt it out of choice. Personally,  I think that eventually gluten-free diets will become just as accepted as vegetarian diets are, with clear labeling and accessibility.