I’ve mentioned before how I hate it when people jump on a bandwagon without bothering to understand what it’s about or without getting their facts straight. We’re probably all a little guilty of it at some point or other, but it’s the trends that really get to me. If I wanted to get political, I would mention the members of the Tea Party, mostly people from the lower income brackets who oppose Obama’s administration by complaining about income tax, saying they are paying too much and don’t want any more increases. The fact is that they are actually paying less in income tax with Obama than they were with the Bush administration. So they are up in arms against Obama, when he’s actually on their side, defending their interests and giving them benefits. But I don’t really want to get political, so I’ll drop the subject.
The same bandwagon jumping trends are present in the food world. I’ve talked about how it bugs me when people eat organic produce because they think it’s more nutritious, when really organic usually means that the produce was grown without toxic chemicals or pesticides (and therefore is much more likely to be non-GMO). So those people don’t understand that organic doesn’t get them more vitamins or minerals, it just gets them less poison.
This week’s Time magazine has a really interesting article about the trends surrounding gluten-free foods. I was aware that some people mistakenly think that eating gluten-free is a fad, some kind of diet that will wane in popularity, like the Atkins diet or the low-carb diet. But this article gives numbers: only 8 to 12% of people buying gluten-free products do so because they are gluten intolerant. I must admit I’m not in those 12%: I buy gluten-free products out of curiosity, because I want to understand what my gluten-intolerant friends and family go through, because I want to have options of things to feed them when I make food for them, and lately because I’ve realized how many grains I was missing out on by sticking only to wheat.
The part that bugs me, though, is this: according to the article, 46% of people who buy gluten-free products do so because they think it’s healthier. But they don’t realize that “gluten-free” is not a synonym for “low-carb” (assuming that low-carb were healthier than the alternative, another debate I’m not starting). And the 30% of people who buy those products to manage their weight have another thing coming: “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 [...], because many substitutes end up being higher in surrogate carbs and low in fiber. That’s why celiac patients who go on prescribed gluten-free diets often see their body mass indexes increase, not decrease.” It’s another case of people not understanding what gluten is and how it does or can affect the body. It just seems stupid to me to go on a diet and not know why; it’s like deciding that you want bigger boobs and then eating more melons to achieve that.
On the one hand, I’m thrilled that because being gluten-free is almost fashionable now, it means that there are more gluten-free foods available to those who actually need them, and more variety for the rest of us. But on the other hand, I’m worried that once the “gluten-free for health/weight management” trend passes, those products will disappear, along with restaurateurs’ willingness to accommodate people with gluten intolerance.