Saturday, September 20, 2014

Gluten Free? Not for Me... Here's Why

Before we begin, I'd like to note that I was a raw vegan for many years in my youth and thus "gluten-free" by default. This blog is NOT about my love of gluten.

It IS about my audible-sigh-attitude towards things labelled "gluten-free." And the delusion that anything carrying such a label is, by extension, healthy.

Let's start with my first (humble) observation:

:: Who Are We Feeding? (Or: All About Beans)

Celiac Central reports that 1% of the American population has celiac disease. Not sure what celiac is? Really, you haven't heard about it yet? Ok, here's an explanation:
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. 
Because those who are so afflicted cannot eat things like traditional forms of bread, pasta, crackers, or many processed foods that contain trace amounts of gluten, some people have gotten creative with alternative ingredients.

Most notably, gluten-free products use bean flours as a substitute for wheat flours and different types of gums (often bean gums like carob, guar, etc...) to make up for the loss of a binding agent (i.e. what was gluten).

Sounds good, right?

So, why is this an issue for me? 

Well, compared to the 1% of people who cannot eat gluten, is the estimated 10% of our human population who cannot metabolize beans. We are called "G6PD Deficient."

From wikipedia:
The condition is characterized by abnormally low levels of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, an enzyme involved in the pentose phosphate pathway that is especially important in the red blood cell. G6PD deficiency is the most common human enzyme defect.
(Emphasis is mine)

As I understand it, G6PD helps our cells metabolize sugar. Also, it creates an enzyme called reduced glutathione, which is the antioxidant that protects our red blood cells from being killed by the oxidation that results from normal metabolism.

When someone like myself eats a cupcake made of fava bean flour, my cells go into auto-destruct mode and I can become anemic or worse. (To be fair, people like me should avoid processed sugar anyway, but let's keep moving...)

There is much ado about celiac and gluten intolerance, but this is likely the first time you have heard of G6PD Deficiency, yes?

When my son was diagnosed about two years ago, it was the first I'd ever heard of it too. Our pediatrician at the time said he saw very few cases of it. Here's the kicker: he never tests for it. Hmmm...

Now, I am very happy for my gluten-free friends and all the great options they now have for sugar cravings and more. But do I think this should become the default way of eating for everyone who is health conscious? No, I do not.

:: Being Vegetarian/Vegan

You may not know this already, so I'll mention here that I am currently a vegetarian.

"Um, a vegetarian who doesn't eat beans?" you might ask.

Indeed. It's a bummer.

To make matters more complex, the same health-conscious people who avoid the putrid slaughtered flesh of farm animals (oh ok, I don't judge), are also the ones switching to gluten free sandwich bread and pizza crusts. In fact, I recently discovered my favorite vegetarian restaurant in Phoenix is going gluten-free. Eek! This means that there will be an ever more limited list of items I can eat on their menu.

So while the gluten-free fad is making life easier for those who actually have issues with gluten, it's definitely making mine a little more difficult... at least socially.


:: Gluten-Free Processed Food Is Still Processed Food

My last observation goes for pretty much every health food craze that I've participated in (raw vegan, pescatatian, dairy-free, lacto-vegetarian, and so on): people start to define themselves by what they DON'T eat, not what they do eat. And the result is the ability to make junk food no matter what your dietary restrictions.

I've seen raw vegan cheesecake, and gluten free muffins. You can make it any way you want. It's still not celery.


Anyway, that's my two cents. I'm mainly trying to raise some awareness about G6PD. With a little help, this affliction may just be the new celiac. Oh, to be so popular!


Much love,
Sirgun

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