If you’ve been in a grocery store or read a restaurant menu lately, you’ve seen the proliferation of gluten-free foods. From rice-based pizza dough to quinoa pilaf, gluten-free has hit the mainstream. You may also be getting an increased number of requests from clients to offer gluten-free items on your menu.
Gluten is a type of protein that’s found in wheat, rye, barley and any foods that contain these grains – such as bread, crackers and cereal. For the 1% of Canadians who have Celiac disease and the 6% who suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a gluten-free diet is a mandatory eating plan and necessary for optimal health. People with these conditions must follow a strict gluten-free diet for life or face the unwelcome symptoms (cramps, rashes, anemia) and long term consequences of their condition. For these populations, gluten-free is not a choice, it is a necessity.
Offer gluten-free fare
For your clients following gluten-free diets, be sure to offer a range of healthy options made from nutritious gluten-free grains such as brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa and pure oats. Look for cereals, bread, crackers and noodles made from these delicious and healthy ingredients.
Serve fewer items made from calorie-dense and nutritionally-sparse tapioca, potato starch and rice flour. They are the gluten-free equivalent to white bread – no fibre, lots of carbohydrate and little nutritional value.
People on gluten-free diets often fall short of fibre so be sure to also serve lots of vegetables, fruit and legume-based dishes made with chickpeas, beans and lentils.
Despite the fact that only 1% of Canadians have Celiac disease and require a gluten-free diet, recent NPD data shows that almost 25% of consumers are interested in buying gluten-free products. The surge in sales of gluten-free foods to people who don’t have Celiac disease is largely due to the popularity of diet books such as Wheat Belly and The Paleo Diet.
Misinformation from fad diet books is causing consumers to needlessly cut out gluten. Yet, gluten-free diets have no proven benefits in people who don’t need to be on them! Many people try these diets in an effort to lose weight, but to date, no clinical trials have been conducted to support a weight-loss claim for a gluten-free diet and there is no scientific evidence that wheat contributes disproportionately to weight gain.1
Three cheers for whole grains
People who needlessly cut out gluten will also be cutting out a variety of healthy whole grains and risk being deficient in fibre, iron and a host of B-vitamins.2 Plus, many gluten-free products actually have MORE calories than their wheat-containing counterparts and could lead to weight gain. That’s not the desired effect!
For people who do not require a gluten-free diet for a medical condition, it is best to consume a variety of high-fibre whole grains such as oats, pot barley, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, rye and, yes, whole grain wheat. Studies link the fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients in whole grains to a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, more stable blood sugar levels and reduced incidence of hypertension.