Gluten-Free Junk Food

I got back early this week from a great trip to Belleville and Ottawa where I was delivering gluten-free living workshops and a booth at the National Celiac Conference. It’s too bad I didn’t get to attend of the lectures at the conference – so if any of you did, please let me know how they were and what you learned!

The other vendors at the conference were a group of really fantastic people. But I do have to say that after taking a few tours around the floor, I can understand why people like Susan Rowan complain about the abundance of gluten-free junk food on the market. Can you say s-u-g-a-r??!

The gentleman next to me who was talking about cassava flour (very interesting product, by the way – more on that another day), brought along some cassava flour baked goodies for people to sample. And while the texture was amazing – fluffy, light, moist – the recipes his chef used were so full of sugar that one gluten-free brownie square put me off all food for almost an hour.

I can see how gluten-free diets are sometimes criticized for poor nutritional values and for contributing to weight gain. But really – if you eat this kind of food gluten-free or not, these problems are the same.

What it comes down to is the fact that highly refined flour like white rice flour is very fine in texture compared to its grittier brown rice counterpart. So, cookies made with white rice flour are lighter in texture, and more similar to store-bought wheat goodies. To me, though, the texture of baked goods made out of brown rice can still be very pleasant, and it’s greater nutritional value is worth this very minor tradeoff.

Sugar, too, also acts as a binder that helps food stick together and retain moisture. So, the more sugar you put in gluten-free goodies, the more moist and less crumbly they tend to be. But there are other ways to make up for binding and moisture – namely healthy fats like grapeseed oil, or small amounts of starches like tapioca or arrowroot. And of course healthier sugar alternatives like stevia, honey or agave.

As long as the majority of your diet is made up of healthy nutrient dense whole foods, you’ll probably be on the right track. There’s not much harm in eating these types of goodies once in a while (unless you’re trying to overcome a sugar addiction, which more of us have than we realize).

What it really comes down to is learning how to bake for yourself so that you can make those healthier ingredient choices: whole grain flours, natural sweeteners, and healthy oils.

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