A recent Guardian article highlighted just how harmful gluten is… from higher levels and stronger gluten being added to products to make them fluffier and more voluminous (and therefore being able to use less actual product!), the addition of carcinogenic pesticides, a cocktail of additives that have been “generally recognised as safe” (highly reassuring I’m sure you’ll agree!) on their own, but untested together. Not to mention the recent phenomenon of ‘baker’s lung’ – a respiratory problem affecting those in the bread-making industry. Further reading also links gluten to everything from intestinal permeability (or as it’s more commonly known, Leaky Gut) to Alzheimer’s.
In fact, at the recently Lifestyle Medicine Conference, GP and Functional medicine doctor specialising in Autoimmunity, Dr Sarah Davies identified a whole list of health conditions that can be improved by cutting gluten:
- Lichen plantus
- Constipation / diarrhoea
- Coeliac disease
- GI pain
- Reflux (including colic in babies)
- sinus problems
- tonsil problems
- Autoimmnune Thyroid disease (especially Hashimoto’s)
- Brain fog
- Arthritis (including gout)
Plus many, many more… So give yourself a high five if you’re avoiding gluten!
She told the GPs at the conference that an elimination diet is the “single most effective way of dealing with chronic disease.”
So gluten-free is the answer then? Well, probably not…
The Guardian also stated that “relying on gluten free alternatives could be counterproductive” as they state, they “contain the same questionable enzymes and additives that food technologists use in the standard gluten-containing equivalent.” as well as things like xanthan gum which the guradian describes as a ‘Strong glue-like substance, used in the oil industry to thicken drilling mud.” Yum.
So who is eating this stuff? I’m sure we all know someone who’s unknowingly relying on these gluten free alternatives thinking they are doing the right thing. In fact Mintel reported that 15% of households were avoiding gluten and wheat, with more than half believing it to being part of a healthy diet. This is backed up by sales which grew 27% between 2017 and 2018.
We tend to let our Paleo-ish kids indulge in some gluten free alternatives every now and then. So after reading the Guardian article I checked the labels of a few things they have been eating.
Would you like to know what’s in all those “healthy” gluten free alternatives?
In the gluten free bread:
Calcium carbonate – a quick Google shows this is used to make cement and mortar, concrete blocks, stones, roofing shingles, rubber compounds, and tiles. It’s also used as a filler in the paper, plastics, paints and coatings industry. De-licious!
Calcium propionate – used to make butyl rubber. But don’t worry, in a study rats fed a diet high in Calcium propionate “showed no ill effects” so therefore there are no restrictions on it’s use. We are SO reassured, aren’t you? (Ha!)
E464 or to give it it’s full name, Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose – which according to this source is a “commercially prepared, chemically modified wood cellulose product, used in detergents and cleaners, tile adhesives, paints and coatings, and cement.” (again!), and also contains some very worrying heavy metals including: Arsenic, Lead, Mercury, Cadmium.
Scary stuff. The bread went straight into the bin!
In the cookies:
Diphosphate (a chemical additive and preservative which is used to stop food from discolouring. It is also used to clean the machines used in dairy farms, remove hair from pigs and feathers from poultry and in the making of plastics, too.)
Xanthan gum (which is also known by the less appealing names of Bacterial Polysaccharide and Corn Sugar Gum!) According to WebMD it’s a sugar-like compound made by mixing aged (fermented) sugars with a certain kind of bacteria. It doesn’t necessarily sound harmful but then again I’m not really sure I want to eat it!
In the bread sticks:
Glucose-fructose syrup (nice) and Mono and Diacetyltartaric acid esters of mono-and diglycerides of fatty acids (apparnently not harmful but a bit of an un-appetitzing mouthful!)
Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, a chemically modified cellulose polymer commonly used as an alternative to gelatin and gluten but also used in building materials, ink, textile dyeing and paper making.
And that’s just a few of the thousands and thousands of gluten free alternatives on the supermarket shelves – it’s a growing trend that shows no signs of stopping.
As avid-label readers, people with a food business and years of experience on the food and marketing industries, we can’t believe we missed this. And so if we did, we’re guessing other people are missing it too. If you know people who are eating gluten free alternatives thinking they are being ‘healthy’ please show them this post, or even better share the link on social media. And follow our tips below for the best way to go gluten free.
So what can you do?
The most obvious answer is avoid anything gluten-ful and gluten free and eat a diet consisting of fresh real food. If it doesn’t have a label (or an advert!) you’re good to go. Now whilst this is a great option for many people (we take our hats off to you), we don’t think it’s realistic for us.
Option two, which is our approach, is to eat real food which is naturally gluten free and grain free, ie Paleo foods. Bake your own cookies, bread and cakes (try our recipes page for a start) or get pre-made mixes like these amazing Paleo cookies, this tastes-like-real-bread Paleo loaf and this delicious Paleo cake mix. These don’t have scary sounding ingredients such as xanthan gum (which as we found out above is used to thicken mud for industrial oil drilling) hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose, used in cement, or tapioca starch a chemically modified starch made from cassava root, which is dried and pulped and removed of any nutrients. (Note: don’t confuse tapioca starch with cassava flour. Cassava flour, whilst still a high carbohydrate starch, is made from grinding the whole root vegetable and is therefore a whole food.)
Do you eat gluten free foods? Are you thinking of dropping them in favour of real food alternatives? Let us know below.