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FoodMan

Marketing "Gluten-Free"

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Some recent examples include:

- At a local new pastry/coffee shop that sells mostly cupcakes I saw they had nice-looking little macarons (turned out too sweet, too expensive and too bland). When I asked the young lady behind the counter if they make those in-house she replied with the affirmative and instead of extolling the virtues of the ingredients, care and skill she kept on telling me "AND they are gluten free". Why do I need to know that??? I asked her why was that important and she had no clue...other than that it is "good for you". Really? Food without gluten is good for me?

- Another shop that also sells cupcakes advertises macaron's as "Gluten Free". That's it. Again, it's like gluten is "evil" and needs to be avoided.

- My local grocery store does those announcements/adverts while people are shopping the isles. Their most important special a couple of days ago? Tortillas. Their most important feature according to the helpful store employee announcing the sale? yes, they are "Gluten Free"! Other than celiacs, who cares and why should they care?

Now, please understand that I am not saying that offering gluten-free options is a horrible, stupid or harmful to anyone. I understand that Celiac disease is real and those who suffer from it need to know what's in the food they eat. Just like those who have severe nut, shellfish or any other form of allergies need to know and make it a point to ask about their food. Celiacs do not avoid gluten because it's a "healthier" lifestyle, but because they need to. I doubt anyone chooses to eat gluten-free bread if he or she did not absolutely need to.

My rant is aimed at how the "gluten-free" options are being marketed. To me, it looks like idiotic food marketers are equalizing gluten with "bad-for-you". All these gluten-rich items are bad, just like trans-fats or cholesterol or carbs from a few years ago,....Please by all means offer gluten-free options, as many as you can, but marketing them as a healthy or healthier option is misleading, confusing and pisses me off. Case in point, I was at a dinner party this past weekend and one of the guests was talking about how he cooked this pasta and how it fell apart and got gummy and a total mess. After a few clarifying questions he mentioned that it was a gluten-free pasta! When I asked him why on earth he would buy that if he is not a Celiac, he said he just wanted to check it out because it might be healthier or taste better!! He had no clue what gluten is and most people don't. Those who care about gluten can easily find gluten-free options these days and usually are well informed as to what has it and what does not. Those who have no problem with gluten have no need to care if their macaron has gluten or not.


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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No different than the marketing that extolls a product with "no trans fat" but is a blob of sugar or something equally less than ideal for you. They latch onto the latest trend aiming at the least sophisticated consumer.

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My son is allergic to milk and my wife chooses not to eat dairy for health reasons. I was quite excited (I need to get out more) when I noticed lots of signs in cafes in our regular holiday haunt offering soya milk lattes. I didn't realise until much later that it was appealing to the "healthy eating" (calorie counting) crowd. I just thought, in my blinkered viewpoint, that they were catering for dairy intolerance/vegans.

Most free-from products are inferior to the originals in my opinion.


Best Wishes,

Chee Fai.

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The perception of gluten-free products as being, somehow, better for you than non-gluten free products is a marketing success story. As with vegan food, most people assume that gluten-free food is inherently healthier. Gluten-free pasta made from milled rice or corn is higher on the glycemic index than wheat pasta, which is one of two reasons I am reluctant to serve it to my diabetic husband.

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It seems to me that gluten is the new MSG. The main difference is that there is a small percentage of the population with Celiac disease who really can't tolerate gluten, whereas MSG "sensitivity" has been shown to be imaginary. But aside from those who actually suffer from Celiac disease, there's a pretty large group that claim some kind of gluten "sensitivity" which, to my knowledge, is mostly self-diagnosed and anecdotal. People have always been willing to jump on the latest health food fad, and it's no surprise that marketing takes advantage of that gullibility.

Let's just hope that gluten doesn't get the treatment that sodium is now getting.

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I agree wholeheartedly--but it's almost a defining national trait these days to be obsessed with some form of "denial" eating. First it was low/nonfat, then low/noncarb, now gluten-free is having its moment. Food marketing is increasingly like personal care product marketing (people can only use so much toothpaste or deodarant), with micro-specialization of products as a way to gain market share. Can't sell any more of your tough, refrigerated tortillas? Capture a little piece of the GF market and make more money.

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The real problem here is that the public at large has no basis for evaluating a claim. If someone says gluten is bad, it must be(never mind that bread has supported life for eons).

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But aside from those who actually suffer from Celiac disease, there's a pretty large group that claim some kind of gluten "sensitivity" which, to my knowledge, is mostly self-diagnosed and anecdotal. People have always been willing to jump on the latest health food fad, and it's no surprise that marketing takes advantage of that gullibility.

It is precisely this perception that upsets me most about the gluten-free = healthy campaign. While there are plenty of folks who will latch onto a gluten-free diet for the wrong reasons, there are those among us who genuinely benefit from avoiding gluten, if not eliminating it altogether. At my doctor's suggestion, and after testing negative on a blood test for Celiac, I began a two-month long elimination diet in order to determine the cause of my nearly lifelong digestive issues. I did not eliminate sugar and unhealthy fats, nor did I increase my fiber intake. (That actually decreased once Cracklin' Oat Bran was eliminated from my diet.) My notes were detailed and precise, embarrassingly so. By the end of the two months, I was feeling spectacular. Was this anecdotal? Yes. But many doctors will tell you that NCGS (Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity) is a very real phenomenon. This one, for instance.

I would never choose to be this way. I love to bake. I love pasta. Most gluten-free breads and pastas are vile. In fact, more and more since I discovered this problem, I have been deliberately avoiding them altogether because they are, in most cases, a complete waste of time, an utter disappointment. I'd rather eat the real thing and feel sick to my stomach, which I do quite often again these days. :hmmm:

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But aside from those who actually suffer from Celiac disease, there's a pretty large group that claim some kind of gluten "sensitivity" which, to my knowledge, is mostly self-diagnosed and anecdotal. People have always been willing to jump on the latest health food fad, and it's no surprise that marketing takes advantage of that gullibility.

It is precisely this perception that upsets me most about the gluten-free = healthy campaign. While there are plenty of folks who will latch onto a gluten-free diet for the wrong reasons, there are those among us who genuinely benefit from avoiding gluten, if not eliminating it altogether. At my doctor's suggestion, and after testing negative on a blood test for Celiac, I began a two-month long elimination diet in order to determine the cause of my nearly lifelong digestive issues. I did not eliminate sugar and unhealthy fats, nor did I increase my fiber intake. (That actually decreased once Cracklin' Oat Bran was eliminated from my diet.) My notes were detailed and precise, embarrassingly so. By the end of the two months, I was feeling spectacular. Was this anecdotal? Yes. But many doctors will tell you that NCGS (Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity) is a very real phenomenon. This one, for instance.

I would never choose to be this way. I love to bake. I love pasta. Most gluten-free breads and pastas are vile. In fact, more and more since I discovered this problem, I have been deliberately avoiding them altogether because they are, in most cases, a complete waste of time, an utter disappointment. I'd rather eat the real thing and feel sick to my stomach, which I do quite often again these days. :hmmm:

Thank you, Abooja, for telling a story very similar to mine. JAZ, with all due respect, your post makes me very angry. Yes, there are fad dieters for everything. But there are many people with food sensitivities, and there are many doctors, mine included, who firmly believe that there exist gluten sensitivities other than celiac, but the medical community has not identified markers for diagnosing those yet. The "anecdotal" evidence of gluten sensitivity shouldn't be ignored just because the medical community and tests haven't caught up.

Like Abooja, I've lived with GI issues for as long as I can remember, and when they finally became completely unbearable - including, most recently, crippling stomach cramps - last spring, I started reading about food sensitivities and allergies with a real interest. I tested negative for celiac. I took gluten out of my diet (this was my idea based on what I'd read, not a Dr's suggestion). Three days into my elimination diet my digestive issues were almost completely resolved. I can't even begin to tell you what a difference this has made for my life. On the rare occasion that I do have gluten - as in a bite of pasta, not a bowl - I risk having it all come back. No one loves freshly baked bread, pasta, or baked goods more than I do, and yet I rarely eat any of that. Gluten-free replacements are generally crappy and not worth eating. I have never been on a fad diet, and that's not what I'm doing now - I'm choosing my health and well being over food, and while I miss all that good stuff, at the end of the day I couldn't be happier about having figured out what was making me so sick.

There are a lot of us out there.

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What you said is pretty spot on. One of the worst things about the 'X is bad for you' generalization is that it is almost invariably disproved for most people, and nutritional science loses credibility. And when the best someone can say of a food item is that it isn't bad for you, that's sort of depressing. Both with regard to the item itself, and the person's outlook.

. . . . MSG "sensitivity" has been shown to be imaginary. . . .

Has somebody actually confirmed that? The last studies I looked at seemed to be fairly inconclusive, with some mention of dose-effect. But if I eat something MSG-heavy on an empty stomach, I hallucinate my face off. Not that that stops me from eating things that may (or certainly) contain MSG (I'll usually eat something else beforehand, so I don't freak out my friends), but it definitely does something to me, although when I discussed it with a doctor, he said he doubted that the effect would be cause any cumulative/long-term damage, which was nice to hear.

One of the problems with big medical studies is that they only apply to the average person in the population. The uncommon outlier, who is different in some way from normal, will not even be detected by a small study and will be hidden by the normal masses in a large study. The way to approach the problem is to collect outliers, eg you, and study a group of them.

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My mum has coeliac (celiac for US readers) and she gets incredibly frustrated with all the "healthy gluten free" marketing.

One good thing to come out of it is that the fashionableness of gluten free has made it a lot easier for her to get hold of products in the supermarket. But having tasted some of them when I go to her house, I cannot see why anyone would eat them voluntarily!

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. . . . MSG "sensitivity" has been shown to be imaginary. . . .

Has somebody actually confirmed that?

The way to approach the problem is to collect outliers, eg you, and study a group of them.

There was a study that took exactly this approach: it enrolled a bunch of people with a claimed MSG sensitivity and did trials to determine whether they could detect MSG in food. They could not do so. I'll look up the citation for you when Modernist Cuisine arrives tomorrow.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Oh. That would be a problem I can't solve. Apologies.

Sent from my Droid using Tapatalk

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But aside from those who actually suffer from Celiac disease, there's a pretty large group that claim some kind of gluten "sensitivity" which, to my knowledge, is mostly self-diagnosed and anecdotal. People have always been willing to jump on the latest health food fad, and it's no surprise that marketing takes advantage of that gullibility.

It is precisely this perception that upsets me most about the gluten-free = healthy campaign. While there are plenty of folks who will latch onto a gluten-free diet for the wrong reasons, there are those among us who genuinely benefit from avoiding gluten, if not eliminating it altogether. At my doctor's suggestion, and after testing negative on a blood test for Celiac, I began a two-month long elimination diet in order to determine the cause of my nearly lifelong digestive issues. I did not eliminate sugar and unhealthy fats, nor did I increase my fiber intake. (That actually decreased once Cracklin' Oat Bran was eliminated from my diet.) My notes were detailed and precise, embarrassingly so. By the end of the two months, I was feeling spectacular. Was this anecdotal? Yes. But many doctors will tell you that NCGS (Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity) is a very real phenomenon. This one, for instance.

I would never choose to be this way. I love to bake. I love pasta. Most gluten-free breads and pastas are vile. In fact, more and more since I discovered this problem, I have been deliberately avoiding them altogether because they are, in most cases, a complete waste of time, an utter disappointment. I'd rather eat the real thing and feel sick to my stomach, which I do quite often again these days. :hmmm:

Thank you, Abooja, for telling a story very similar to mine. JAZ, with all due respect, your post makes me very angry. Yes, there are fad dieters for everything. But there are many people with food sensitivities, and there are many doctors, mine included, who firmly believe that there exist gluten sensitivities other than celiac, but the medical community has not identified markers for diagnosing those yet. The "anecdotal" evidence of gluten sensitivity shouldn't be ignored just because the medical community and tests haven't caught up.

Like Abooja, I've lived with GI issues for as long as I can remember, and when they finally became completely unbearable - including, most recently, crippling stomach cramps - last spring, I started reading about food sensitivities and allergies with a real interest. I tested negative for celiac. I took gluten out of my diet (this was my idea based on what I'd read, not a Dr's suggestion). Three days into my elimination diet my digestive issues were almost completely resolved. I can't even begin to tell you what a difference this has made for my life. On the rare occasion that I do have gluten - as in a bite of pasta, not a bowl - I risk having it all come back. No one loves freshly baked bread, pasta, or baked goods more than I do, and yet I rarely eat any of that. Gluten-free replacements are generally crappy and not worth eating. I have never been on a fad diet, and that's not what I'm doing now - I'm choosing my health and well being over food, and while I miss all that good stuff, at the end of the day I couldn't be happier about having figured out what was making me so sick.

There are a lot of us out there.

i wonder what makes some people so callous about physical illness in others. there are plenty of people who are genuinely sensitive to gluten or who have allergies to wheat and other grains. if one is unfortunate enough to have true sensitivity to gluten, it's a plenty real enough medical problem.

MORTALITY IN CELIAC DISEASE, INTESTINAL INFLAMMATION, AND GLUTEN SENSITIVITY

Peter H. R. Green

JAMA. 2009;302(11):1225-1226 (doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1366)


Edited by azlee (log)

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I apologize for not being clear in my previous post. I didn't intend to deprecate those who have a real gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease. My point, which I guess I didn't make very well, was that when something like gluten sensitivity comes into the public eye, it's inevitable that lots of people will read a little bit about it and leap to conclusions that aren't warranted. My experience has been with a co-worker who swore that eating gluten caused arthritis in her shoulder; my ex-boyfriend's mother, whose dentist told her that her gum disease was a result of eating gluten; and an acquaintance whose brother was convinced that his Asperger's Syndrome was caused by gluten. It seems to me that such a wide variety of problems are probably not caused by gluten sensitivity.

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The other problem is that any specialized area requires a lot of education/experience to understand with the proper perspective. Most people are not aware of what they don't know, which, as Rumsfeld said, is a most dangerous situation.

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Why not direct one's ire (and condescension) at those marketing expensive, inedible food-like crud disguised as "healthy" and gluten-free, rather than at us lot of poor saps suffering from real, and chronic illness that most traditional doctors are incapable of curing? This discussion quickly veered from thoughtful to downright insulting. If avoiding gluten makes someone feel better -- and not just in an emotionally deluded way, but in a fewer-trips-to-the-toilet-and-no-more-crippling-pain kind of way, who are you to say otherwise, and why should that irk you so much?

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“The perception of gluten-free products as being, somehow, better for you than non-gluten free products is a marketing success story.”

Maybe for those products that are naturally gluten-free. But for marketers of other foods and particularly bakery products, it’s a marketing nightmare.

The perception that gluten is bad for the general population has R&D at those companies scrambling to remove gluten while maintaining the same great flavor. For many products this is virtually impossible, and comes with an increase in cost.

Regarding MSG, I read this article last year and it made me chuckle:

http://health.yahoo.net/experts/weightloss/surprising-ingredient-causing-weight-gain

The basic premise is that foods containing MSG, even naturally occurring MSG, taste so damn good, they cause one to overeat. Tips include eliminating slow-cooked meats, which cause glutamic acid to be released, adding to that umami yumminess.

Ya wanna lose weight? Eat bad-tasting food.

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Ya wanna lose weight? Eat bad-tasting food.

A few years back my doctor gave me a several page handout on a diet he'd like me to go on. His nurse told me, "I'll save you some reading. If it tastes good, spit it out!"

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Looking at this purely from a marketing perspective: I don't live full time in the US, so when I come back after 6 months, there is always some fad going on. Last year there were blueberries in everything. I think it was because of anti-oxidants, or free radicals, or locked up radicals. Who remembers... I was just amazed, there must have been a bumper crop of blueberries grown last year.

This year, it's gluten free. But, my take away is that gluten free lovers must like junk food. I went into the freezer section, for peas...and there was literally row after row after row of 'gluten free' processed foods. Crazy stuff that probably wouldn't have glutens anyway were trumpeting their freedom from glutens.

I'm not pooh-pooh people's genuine inability to tolerate glutens, I'm just observing marketing trends. And I know you shouldn't pluralize gluten, but I'm poking a bit of fun at the marketers.

(FYI, farro is supposed to well tolerated by those who have trouble with gluten).

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This year, it's gluten free. But, my take away is that gluten free lovers must like junk food. I went into the freezer section, for peas...and there was literally row after row after row of 'gluten free' processed foods. Crazy stuff that probably wouldn't have glutens anyway were trumpeting their freedom from glutens.

Gluten finds its way into nearly every packaged or processed food, regardless of whether you think of that product as "wheat" or "flour" based. You know the crap that you can't pronounce or identify in a label? Well, a lot of it's gluten. Ingredients like hydrolyzed vegetable protein, malt, maldodextrin and modified food starch have gluten in them. Now, regardless of my gluten sensitivity, I don't know what the hell these things are, and I very rarely, if ever, eat or ate them. Shopping at a regular grocery store is still a nightmare for people who avoid gluten but eat processed or packaged foods. Do you know that many flavored yogurts have gluten in them? Does that sound necessary? Right.

Obviously, taking crappy gluten filled food and replacing it with crappy gluten free food is not particularly healthy or helpful if you care about what you're eating, but I'm not telling the GF community what they should or shouldn't be eating. They are replacing products in their pantries with the GF options. I have found a few companies that are putting out relatively healthy frozen food without preservatives and ingredients that I can't pronounce (like Amy's, evol and four tines), and yes, they are labeled GF. And I eat them on occasion. And when I (rarely) want a bagel for my cream cheese and lox, those GF bagels you're mocking do really come in handy.

What I'm still grappling with in this thread is why people with no medical knowledge or personal dietary health issues feel the need to judge here, or question whether other people's health issues really have been resolved by avoiding gluten. We're telling you they have been, and that should be all you need to hear. Our food systems are a disaster. Is it really surprising that people might experience better health by avoiding overly processed and genetically modified crap? Even more importantly, why do you care? I don't tell you what to eat.

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Daisy - I know where you are coming from and, with a husband with celiac, have certainly seen first-hand the need for GF products. From that point of view, I'm delighted with the recent surge in availability of GF options. That said, there is no doubt in my mind, the surge is the result of a fad driven by people who don't need a GF diet, or even really understand what it is. I have a co-worker who decided to go GF because she figured it must be "healthier" while clearly having no idea of why, and having no symptoms that would suggest a need. I know people who decided to try to go GF for weight loss (ridiculous, since almost all GF products are much higher in calories than their non-GF equivalents). Believe me, I am happy to take advantage of all the GF products out their, but I know it's a fad that will fade, just like the many other food fads that have come and gone.

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Wasn't the original point of this entire discussion the marketing aspect of gluten-free foods, rather than the validity of people's claims of gluten sensitivity?

Exactly. I am not sure anyone is saying that foods should not be labeled "Gluten-Free". The marketing bit we are mostly taken issue with is very well illustrated by KitchenMom's comment about her coworker. I do not mind seeing "Gluten-Free" on a baked good or packaged food, but I do mind (well more like get annoyed) by being offered a "Gluten-Free" aka "healthy" option wherever I go. If I want a GF option I'll ask for it. Another example, apparently (per a podcast I was listening to today - Adam Carolla's to be specific) Rebecca Romijn is now on a gluten-free diet and is enforcing it on her husband (Jerry O' connell- who was telling the story) and her 3-year old twins. No, she has no digestive problems whatsoever according to Mr. O'Connell and he has no clue why she is doing that! I hope she will not be sponsoring an infomercial about it soon.


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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