I’ve always been a health-conscious person, mostly from the perspective of eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise. But it wasn’t until our family of four had to begin eating gluten free almost six years ago that I became a compulsive label reader. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in the grocery store, reading a label, and had someone come up and say “you don’t want to know what’s in there!” Actually, it happened only several days ago, when my son needed to buy some beef jerky for a college event, and I was looking for a gluten free variety. The guy was right; I did not want to know what was in the jerky. I also needed to have a Blackberry with me to look up half the ingredients on Wikipedia to truly understand what was in it.
On the plus side of eating gluten free (and, yes, there are some plusses,) we eat far less processed food than we once did. I make almost all of our meals from fresh ingredients these days, including our baked goods and snack items. One would think with all the improvements in gluten free products and the sheer number of them, this would not be the case. But as the gluten free marketplace has grown, so have the additives in gluten free foods. There are additives to extend shelf life, additives to retard mold growth, flavor enhancers, and all kinds of engineered compounds that act as dough conditioners, binders, and texture-enhancers. Makes me wish I had paid better attention in high school chemistry class. As a wholesale baker, we are bombarded with all kinds of ingredients manufacturers peddling their wares. Perhaps the scariest of all are the chemically modified food starches—tapioca, potato, corn and rice.
Cultured dextrose, glucono-delta-lactone, sodium alginate, modified cellulose, monocalcium phosphate, ascorbic acid, sodium carboxy methylcellulose, sodium stearayl lactylate, microbial enzyme, poly dextrose, mono and diglycerides, tapioca dextrin, methyl-cellulose, and agar-agar. These are some of the additives commonly found in gluten free food. Why? Some will argue that they improve taste, others texture, and shelf life. But, gluten free food doesn’t need these additives to be great tasting. In the words of Michael Pollan, “…There’s a lot of money in the Western diet. The more you process any food, the more profitable it becomes.”
At Against The Grain, we subscribe to another piece of Michael Pollan’s advice:”Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”