Don’t be a glutton for gluten

Peter
Peter Jackson
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As I write this column, I’m consuming a bag of Lays salt and vinegar chips in my office. My healthy-eating friends would be mortified, although I notice one colleague has since acquired his own pack of prepared snacks — peer marketing at work.

Wheat. Is it really so evil?

Looking at the bag, I realize I’m consuming more than 20 per cent of my daily recommended fat content. Ouch. At least none of it is trans fat or cholesterol which, as we know, are dire threats to civilization itself.

I’m also eating 15 per cent of all the salt I’ll need in a day, but only three per cent of necessary fibre. In the plus column, I’m getting 15 per cent of my vitamin C — no scurvy for me today.

One thing that’s not listed is gluten. I’m surprised, because the way some people talk, you’d think gluten is about on par with arsenic.

Since when has this innocent little protein become the newest addition to the Axis of Evil? Some people I’ve met would rather be poisoned with polonium-210 than chew on a raisin bun. Can it really be that bad?

The thing I’ve always understood about diet is that — like most things in life — moderation and balance is key.

I once read a biography of Hans Christian Andersen, the Dane who wrote fairy tales. Apparently, young Hans was partial to butter.

“I’d like to eat a whole bathtub of butter some day,” he once told his mother.

“If you did you’d be very sick,” his mother said.

Today, she’d tell him he should up his intake of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The message is, don’t eat so much butter. Or sugar or salt. Or, for that matter, gluten.

So, what’s the “science” behind this no-gluten craze? Depends who you ask.

The main exponent of gluten-free zealotry is a doctor named William Davis, who wrote a book a couple of years ago called “Wheat Belly.”

He says humans weren’t meant to eat grains, especially the gluten-laden varieties that have sprung up in recent decades. He blames gluten for almost every health woe known to man, calling it a “perfect chronic poison.”

All very alarming stuff. The problem is, very little is based on credible research. Even some of the research Davis cites doesn’t correspond to his own conclusions. It’s true. I looked it up.

Davis’s followers are quite militant. So much so, that my mere mention of him will summon online warriors to drop incendiary bombs into the comments section. They will call me ignorant and irresponsible. They may even call me a fat head.

Now, some people are allergic to gluten. They have celiac disease. Gluten makes their bowels go berserk. Lord knows I understand allergies, as I have some doozies myself.

But there are more and more people who now claim to have gluten sensitivity. This is far more nebulous. Statistics I’ve seen suggest it could be anywhere from a few thousand to a few billion. There’s not a lot of clarity.

For instance, it’s possible other things cause similar symptoms — like molecules called FODMAPs. Yes, they sound like a restaurant app for the iPhone, but what’s interesting is that they’re contained in wheat, barley and rye — the same gluten-rich culprits. FODMAPs, by the way, also cause bean farts and cabbage gas. I hope the experts clear the air soon.

My point is simply this: if gluten isn’t your thing, don’t eat it. You’re not losing out on much — save for those wonderfully chewy loaves from Georgetown Bakery.

But don’t be preaching about how gluten has us all pinned to the mat and is sitting on our face. There are much bigger threats we have to worry about than a bit of gummy protein.

Compared to all the salt, sugar and fat in processed foods, worrying about gluten is like fretting over a dripping faucet while your toilet is overflowing.

By the way, those chips I ate? They had seven per cent of my daily value of saturated fat.

There’s a daily value for saturated fat? Hallelujah!

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email: pjackson@thetelegram.com.

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