Cut the Crap: What is ‘Gluten-Free’ Really Hiding? | Loveraw

What's ‘Gluten-Free’ Really Hiding?

So continuing with our theme to CUT THE CRAP. This week we are talking about the Free From market.

When a friend of mine’s daughter tested positive for celiac disease, a year and a half later her mother had highlighted another problem, her poor digestive conditions. She was taken to a specialist clinic for an endoscopy and her diet was quickly changed. While the girl’s gluten-free diet was relatively easy to follow – at least when she was at home – and her condition improved significantly, one thing her mother hadn’t legislated for was the low nutrient content and the excessive levels of fat, sugar and salt in the Free From products she’d bought. This is a common problem many people can overlook.

Gluten is wheat or cereal protein, which can create skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems for those who are even mildly intolerant to it. One of these nasty little problems, Celiac disease, is an autoimmune condition which occurs as a result of eating gluten and often damages the small intestine. About 1% of the population are thought to have this complaint which happens to excite the food and drink industry very much. Why? Well because the global gluten-free market is thought to be worth around £2.3bn at the moment and 10% of all product launches worldwide have some Free From claim.

Of course, not all of the people shopping for these products are ‘sick’; even for non-celiacs, gluten-free offers many health benefits and more and more shoppers are choosing Free From items in an effort to bolster their own healthy lifestyles and those of their family. I suspect, however, that like my friend’s daughter, a large number of these shoppers are not fully aware of how unhealthy the other ingredients are in such products.       

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for finding ways to improve my diet but, seriously, just because a manufacturer slaps a free-this or a free-that label on the packet really doesn’t mean it’s ‘the best thing for us’. The real issue here is actually how the product tastes. If a manufacturer puts a gluten-free brand on the shelf that tastes of sawdust then it’s going to lose consumers by the lorry load. If something is taken out, then most companies resort to cramming something back in to ensure the thing is edible.

This is a minefield for people looking to make the right choices and hunting out healthy, good-tasting, gluten-free food has become something of a poison chalice. Here are four reasons why that is the case:   

  • Use Your Loaf - Warburtons Free From Sliced Brown Bread: Ouch! This harmless looking loaf has four different sugar variants in it (sugar beet fibre, caramelised sugar, dextrose & concentrated fruit juice) along with two E-numbers listed to enhance flavour, colour and prolong shelf life. Bread is widely regarded as a key gluten source and bakeries are now cashing in on the Free From option but a loaf’s other constituent parts can undermine its true health credentials.
  • Cereal Filler – Glebe Farm Strawberry Oat Granola Crisp: Boom! This is the exemplar product for replacing one ingredient for another: gluten for lots of additional sugar formats. Refined vegetable oil has also been added which helps give gluten-free products moisture and texture. That means high levels of Omega- 6 fatty acids and potential health issues. Consumer perception is that granola is a healthy breakfast alternative and that, even with a Free From label attached, is seriously in question here.
  • You’re Figging Joking - Doves Farm Organic Gluten-Free Fig & Quinoa Cookies: Crunch! With its Free From claims and a lot of the ingredients labelled ‘organically grown’, you could be forgiven for thinking you could live on cookies for the rest of your life. Sadly, these have two sugar variants including corn syrup: the basic sugar molecule, glucose.  
  • Not So Sweet - Sainsbury's FreeFrom Ginger Cake Slices: Yugh! Red traffic lights on fat, sugar and calorie content and with multiple vegetable oil, sugar and preservative sources suggests this cannot possibly form part of someone’s healthy diet.

Some Tips for Success

I read somewhere that over 70% of people are now guided by someone with a food intolerance when eating out so it’s clear the Free From market is here to stay. BUT gluten free and healthy eating are not always comfortable bedfellows; a lot of gluten-free products are demonstrably less-healthy than their less-refined, gluten-filled counterparts.

I recommend these three tips for going gluten-free without unconsciously sabotaging your health:

  1. Don’t assume ‘FreeFrom’ means ‘good for you’: always check the ingredients and avoid products with excessive sugars, preservatives and refined oils.
  2. Advice in restaurants is improving but there remains a lack of consistency out there: check the gluten-free source and the food provenance of bases, breads and pastas etc., freshly prepared and restaurant made is always the best start.  
  3. Be creative and make your own gluten-free foods at home: that way you stay in control of all the ingredients going into your food.

Keep healthy my friends,


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