Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gluten free diet-- Fad or what?

I was pleased to see the news item on TV1 tonight about the ‘gluten free fad.’ I thought it was balanced and much overdue----because for many people proclaiming a gluten-free diet for ‘health’ reasons--- well it is just that, fed by silly Hollywood starlets who wouldn’t know anything about gluten, even if it bit them in the bum!
Only one in a hundred NZers is reported to have Coeliac Disease. Such people have had their condition scientifically diagnosed and must stick to a completely gluten free regime. I am not a Coeliac but I have family members who are, one for at least 15 years.
When that diagnoses was made, life had to change and the best way for me to accommodate the restrictions was to learn myself. Out went many items in my pantry and it was back to basics for cooking in those early days. It was like deconstructing everything we cooked when my sibling came around for dinner. The only safe way to ensure that there was no hidden gluten in the form of sauces and processed foods was to stay simple.
That is easy enough but it gets a bit boring so we gradually sought out products that were labelled gluten free. Believe me--- there were not many around then and we had to become bloody good at reading labels and understanding that gluten can be lying in wait in the numbers and equations on the labelling.
Probably the hardest to source then in any quantity was bread products. Those available were cake-like and tasted like sawdust, only good for toasting. Forget about a nice fresh fluffy white sandwich. The pasta available then was also crappy. But things have changed.
Along came the ‘Gluten-Free Food Shows--- a real blessing both for the stimulation they gave to producers to design new products and rediscover others that had been around for ever. Natural is always best. The breads improved and the pastas increased in variety and quality. Other food manufacturers discovered ways of producing their offerings without using wheat and other gluten-laden flours.  The only problem is the price. Gluten free products can be pricy—for example, breads can be up to three times the price, but with competition, that has improved slightly. One can get a prescription for some gluten free basics.
I suppose we can thank the starlets for publicising gluten free products, which means that the market is bigger and then things make more sense economically.
Ethnic foods can be good too. I find that Vietnamese and other South East Asian foods can be quite helpful for the person seeking something safe and different. The only problem is that if one goes to a food hall, there is the possibility that the cooks don’t understand the concept, but if you have a friendly knowledgeable friend like we have, then navigating through the hazards is possible. Indonesian soy sauces; the thick sweet variety which is thickened with palm sugar can be acceptable, but once again, you have to be careful.
Good on you TV1--- you brought common sense to the issue. If anyone wants to engage in a meaningful conversation about going gluten free--- make some comments and I shall put up some simple very tasty recipes, often designed by myself.

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