In Defence of Gluten

And we’re back after a couple of unexpected weeks away.  What better time to dive into controversy?  Gluten, the devil food.  The foodstuff that will no doubt cause the end of all civilization and the Judas to all bakers everywhere.  No one in their right mind would go anywhere near it…  No wait, I got my notes mixed up, those statements apply to cakepops, gluten is awesome and I’ll not hear anything against it.

Regular readers should be aware that I am a little obsessed with bread.  Just a bit.  So obviously I have reason to come down on the side I do.  But it’s important to remember that you wont hear me saying things like, “refined sugar is healthy so let’s all eat cake.”  I fully understand that most of what I do creates beautiful and delicious items, which are not going to do much for your health.  I know this, and that’s fine.  Bread though, is my out.  Something I can whip up and not feel bad about eating for breakfast.DSCF0743

Type “Gluten” in to google and there is a host of articles on gluten-free diets and the evils of gluten.  If you take a cursory look through them it makes for a pretty terrifying read.  According to most of them gluten causes a laundry list of ailments, starting at minor lethargy and ending with crippling pain.  It seems a scary risk to take for a simple slice of toast.  Look a little closer and you may start to notice some disturbing journalistic trends.  Most notably, almost every single article makes the point that the dangers of gluten affect those that are sensitive to it and then makes the jump to the conclusion that gluten is therefore bad for everyone.  Effectively these writers are saying that because some people are allergic to something, it is inherently unhealthy.  Do you see the problem with this? One article that was talking about whole wheat bread compared in health to filtered cigarettes as opposed to white bread’s unfiltered.

Occasionally a better piece will point out that it is likely an excess of gluten which causes the most problems.  Here I find myself agreeing slightly more.  Bread and baked goods can’t be solely to blame though.  Did you know that soy sauce is a source of gluten?  Gluten is found in processed meats and is used as a thickening agent in most salad dressings.  It’s starting to seem harder and harder to be gluten free, even if you feel you need to.  And again, unless you are sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, you probably don’t.  I’m all for limiting your intake, though.  This is equally true of all things and especially all foods.  Just because it’s not good to eat to much of it does not make gluten “poison” as some claim.

Another claim to the unhealthy nature of gluten is that some feel it is a too recent food for our bodies to be able to properly process; on source called it a “novel” food.  In theory this could be true.  You’ve no doubt heard of the “Paleo Diet,” a fad diet that supposedly mimics the way humans may have eaten before ten thousand years ago?  Assuming for a moment that this is valid, (and I’ve read some medical research that shows that our digestive tract evolves much, much faster than that) this no doubt means that gluten would be foreign to our distant ancestors.  Except that archaeologists have found bread ovens that have been reliably dated to have existed twenty thousand years ago.  So your ham on rye?  Totally Paleo.

Also Paleo.  Mostly.

Also Paleo. Mostly.

Being a baker I have a pretty clear bias and an obvious stake in this fight.  If you do decide to cut gluten from your diet, then that’s your choice and I have nothing to say to that.  Gluten Free is big business these days, and there is a lot of money to be made from gluten fear mongering.  This is my attempt at showing the other side.  The best thing I can do is tell you to do your own research and do your best to make an informed decision.  I have personally found zero evidence that gluten is all that bad for you in moderation, but perhaps you’ll find different.

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