EDITOR'S POST 

Why does everyone leap on the anti-wheat bandwagon?

It started as a few niche but crucial products for sufferers of a genuine medical condition.

But now the market for gluten-free products has mushroomed spectacularly into an industry worth hundreds of millions of pounds in Britain alone – spawning an increasingly absurd range of products as manufacturers and supermarkets rush to cash in.

While the idea of special ‘gluten-free’ water and toilet cleaner might seem preposterous, shoppers are increasingly turning to such items in the belief they are following a more healthy lifestyle.

But even when it comes to food, nutrition experts warn that gluten-free groceries can often be less healthy than their regular counterparts. 

‘Most gluten-free products have more fat and sugar to help create the texture that is lost when gluten is excluded,’ warns Ian Marber, founder of The Food Doctor.

The gluten-free craze has even inspired a dating site which seeks to attract and match people following a gluten-free diet

The gluten-free craze has even inspired a dating site which seeks to attract and match people following a gluten-free diet

The gluten-free craze has even inspired a dating site which seeks to attract and match people following a gluten-free diet

Gluten-free body wash and cat food are some of the other bizarre gluten-free items available

Around one in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, in which the gluten proteins found in wheat and other cereals causes damage to the lining of the small intestine.

But many people who have not been diagnosed believe such proteins to be generally bad for them, thanks to champions of gluten-free diets such as Rachel Weisz and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Marber says: ‘Claims that gluten causes irritation of the gut in non-coeliacs are unsupported by long-term research.’

Nonetheless sales of gluten and wheat-free food reached almost £300 million last year – 44 per cent up on 2015. Items now labelled as such include:

lBlk Water claims in its marketing material to be ‘gluten-free’. There is no gluten in water;

lPet Munchies that do not contain wheat, gluten, cereals or soya;

Gwyneth Paltrow is well-known for sharing advice on nutrition and wellbeing through her lifestyle blog Goop. She has been a vocal advocate for a gluten-free diet

Gwyneth Paltrow is well-known for sharing advice on nutrition and wellbeing through her lifestyle blog Goop. She has been a vocal advocate for a gluten-free diet

Gwyneth Paltrow is well-known for sharing advice on nutrition and wellbeing through her lifestyle blog Goop. She has been a vocal advocate for a gluten-free diet

lSeventh Generation gluten-free toilet cleaner, which is more than four times as expensive as own-brand product at Tesco;

lThe dating website Gluten Free Singles.

Other products include hair wax, lipstick, toothpaste, shampoos, body washes and lotions.

‘A lot of people are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon,’ said nutritionist Rick Hay. ‘Gluten-free products are often more expensive and many people who do not need to avoid gluten do so because they have diagnosed themselves as having a problem, when they don’t.

‘Most people are not coeliac or suffering gluten intolerances. And even if someone is coeliac, there is no reason to avoid products that will not be ingested. Household items such as loo cleaner are not going to cause a problem.’

Indeed, the charity Coeliac UK makes no recommendation that sufferers use only gluten-free products on the face or body. But Simon Duffy, founder of men’s skincare brand Bulldog, which makes gluten-free products, said shoppers were sceptical about that advice. He said: ‘There’s a lot of conflicting views on gluten, which can understandably make our customers question this. Consumers are more aware of the impact of certain allergies and food intolerances.’

Last year, a report found supermarkets marked up products by up to 300 per cent if they had a ‘gluten free’ label – even if the regular item already contained no gluten. 

I need it, but for most of us it’s snake oil 

By Ian Marber, Nutritionist and author

My first foray into gluten-free food came after I was diagnosed with coeliac disease in the early 1990s: strangely cylindrical ‘bread’ made with lentil flour instead of wheat.

I popped a slice under the grill to toast and waited. And waited. I turned away for just a moment and the thing burst into flames.

Back then choices were severely limited. Now there is a bewildering array of gluten-free products stuffed into every supermarket and bakery.

I have seen corn branded as gluten-free – it’s gluten-free anyway – as well as everything from gluten-free shampoo and shower gel to make-up and even dog food. Now it’s even possible to join a gluten-free travel group and sign up to gluten-free dating to find your perfect dietary-compatible love match.

While true coeliacs like me might welcome the choice, this selling of gluten-free snake oil is getting out of hand. It seems that my uncommon illness is now being marketed and promoted as a lifestyle choice.

In coeliacs, gluten – a combination of proteins that are found in wheat, barley and rye – can affect the villi that line the intestines, causing them to flatten. In other words, the little finger-like protrusions that allow nutrients to be absorbed into the body are compromised.

Symptoms of the auto-immune disease include severe diarrhoea, vomiting, bloating and cramping, lethargy and depression. They can be debilitating and often occur just a few hours after consumption of any product containing gluten. 

The National Health Service reports that coeliac disease affects approximately one in 100 people in the UK, but a baffling 13 per cent of the British population now claim to be avoiding gluten, the highest proportion in Europe, according to research from a British Government initiative

Claims that gluten causes irritation of the gut in non-coeliacs are unsupported by long-term research, yet this hasn’t stopped a new breed of people from adopting a gluten-free diet to address every health issue from bloating to lack of energy.

The myth has spread that gluten-free equals healthy – and not only in terms of food.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is the case, but that’s simply not true as most gluten-free products have more fat and sugar to help create the texture that is lost when gluten is excluded.

lIan Marber is the founder of The Food Doctor company that sells nutritional foods.

 

 

 

About the author

Related posts

Leave a Comment