‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Highfalutin Gluten (part II)

We are now all caught up on what gluten is, where it is found, and why people with diagnosed celiac disease (CD) must avoid ingesting it. The next part of the journey is evaluating the validity of the gluten free craze in the regular population as it reaches glutenous maximus.

We've all read it, heard it or talked about it: why not go gluten free? The worst answer out there is "it just makes sense". Actually, it doesn't "just make sense" at all.

The claim "we eat too much gluten in modern times" is thrown around pretty often. Many modern packaged foods contain gluten, and yes, people who eat them probably do consume more gluten than in times gone by. But this is still no reason to banish gluten completely from the diet.

People foolishly think that going gluten free means weight loss. It is true that people diagnosed with CD often lose weight after switching to the necessary gluten free diet. One major reason for this is because a gluten free diet is daunting and restrictive at first. Packaged, high calorie 'junk' foods and many staple foods like bread, cereal and pasta that contain gluten can't be eaten anymore. Fresh, low calorie foods like fruits and vegetables (naturally gluten free) are cheap and easy options. Ta-da! Cutting out the hamburgers, pies, Corn Flakes, cakes and cookies, coupled with increasing fruit and vegetables... Sounds like a solid weight loss recipe. It's gluttony rather than gluten that is to blame for weight problems.

Next up: packaging! On an excursion to my local supermarket, I perused the aisles and found some great visual aids.

First off, let's look at packages that state 'gluten free' without using it as a marketing tool:
These packages (canned tomatoes, tea, sausages) have a small tag showing they are gluten free and safe for those with CD. It is not a big part of the packaging or the marketing.

Now we move to the packages that attempt to confuse consumers into thinking they are great and healthy options by slapping on various phrases, including 'gluten free'.

This package uses the phrase "Nourishing kids in motion", basically saying "if your kid does a sporting activity, this product is good for them".

Next, it states "gluten free" between the phrases "real fruit rope" and "excellent source of vitamin C"... So I'll play captain obvious:
- It's a fruit flavoured rope, not to be confused with actual 'real' fruit
- An excellent source of vitamin C would be a real fruit
- Slapping "gluten free" in with the above phrases attempts to make this product seem healthier

This package epitomises using key words to sell an unhealthy product masquerading as a healthy one. The term "superfood" is not regulated. Would you buy a bucket of organic, gluten free lard if the manufacturer tagged on the word "superfood"? Just because they say it's super, doesn't mean it is. I can dress up my 92 year old grandfather in a superman costume... that doesn't mean he can fly.

Kale is a dark green leafy vegetable that is actually healthy. In it's raw form, 57g (2oz) of kale = 30 calories. This 57g (2oz) bag of glorified gluten free chips contains a whopping 320 calories. Super indeed.

Just to note, the nutrition panel states this bag is two serves...pfft.

Next up, we have a direct comparison between two 'like' products: pretzels. The gluten free variety (Glutino) is pictured above the regular variety (Snyder's). When looking at calories, total fat and salt (sodium) in a 30g (1oz) serve of each product, the gluten free version strikes out time and time again.
  • Calories:
    • Regular = 110
    • Gluten free = 120
  • Fat:
    • Regular = 0g
    • Gluten free = 3.5g
  • Sodium:
    • Regular = 250mg
    • Gluten free = 420mg (!!!)
Generally, gluten free packaged foods are higher in one or more of fat, sugar and salt to help compensate for the texture and taste difference when gluten is removed. This demonstrates how gluten free foods do not equal a healthier option (for those who don't need to avoid gluten).

Lastly, and my favourite finding from my stupendous supermarket excursion: gluten free sweets in the form of shortbread cookies.

Packaging claims...
  •  "Simply Natural" (top left) doesn't = healthy
    • Ricin, arsenic, lead, cyanide and anthrax are also 'simply natural'. Doesn't mean we should eat them
  • "Simply Balanced" and "Simply Nutritious" (center left and top right)
    • What does this even mean? This product's first two ingredients are butter and sugar... which of those sounds "balanced" or "nutritious"?
  • As a side note, the regular shortbread cookies (Walkers) had 4g of sugar per 28g (1oz) where the gluten free cookies were double that at 8g
At the dramatic conclusion of this gluten series, here's the take home recap:
  • Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease requiring a lifelong gluten free diet to prevent chronic intestinal damage
  • Without diagnosed celiac disease, there is nothing wrong with gluten in your diet. It comes down to portion size and selecting wholegrain options (eg: bread and cereal)
  • Gluten free food does not automatically equal healthy
For further reading on gluten, gluten sensitivity and recipes, see:


  1. Wow , You put a lot of efforts ,,here !! I'm glad that you pointed to gluten-free statement on packaged food thanks for sharing

  2. Thank you Farida! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. This was a fun one to research and write.