(Disclaimer: I am a baker, not a doctor. If your doctor has told you to eat gluten free, for goodness sakes, their advice is better than mine!)
When I was little, my mom used to make us meat loaf. She would use all of the normal ingredients, except for one. Where most people would use breadcrumbs as a binder, my mom would use crushed up Cheetos. There were always a few Cheetos left over that she and I would snack on while waiting for dinner. That was always the highlight for me, because afterall, dinner was meatloaf. When I asked her why on earth we were wasting perfectly good Cheetos on meatloaf, she told me that my uncle had Celiac Disorder when he was a child so my grandmother would use "cheesies" since they were made with corn, and my mom continued the tradition. She also mentioned that my uncle grew out of it and could tolerate gluten now, as an adult. We know now that my uncle did not actually have Celiac disease, as that is a lifelong disorder, but he probably had Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance (NCGI). I think of this story everytime somebody mentions to me that they don't have Celiac, they are gluten intolerant. So as you can imagine, lately, I've been thinking about this story a lot!
While those with Celiac, obviously, have to avoid gluten 100%, there are books, websites and magazines, out there telling everybody that almost all of your health, weight and anxiety issues can be solved by eliminating gluten from your diet. And for a very small group of people, those with Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance, I firmly believe this is true. Since there is no medical test for NCGI, it is largely self-diagnosed, and there are people who feel an improvement in their health eating gluten-free, so more power to them. But what about for the rest? Is it healthier to eat gluten free, even if we don't need to?
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you'll have seen that every company under the sun is jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, trying desperately to capture some of the ever expanding gluten-free market. The milk I buy now has a "Naturally Gluten Free" logo on it. My big-name-brand dried cranberries now have a bright yellow banner, proudly stating their gluten free status. A popular brand of plain potato chips have a big "Gluten Free" stamp. My response is....no kidding?!?! Of course plain potato chips, dried cranberries and milk are gluten free. None of these products have changed, they are no better or worse for you then they were 3 years ago, but now with their gluten free labels, are people choosing those products over the competition, thinking it is somehow better for them?
And let's look at the actual products created for the gluten-free market, as opposed to those that have simply changed their packaging. And while I've gone over my feelings on cake mix, let's look at that, shall we? This is a bakery blog, after all!
In Canada, there are 2 main companies that make cake mix. You know who they are, don't make me spell it out for you, you sneaky scoundrels. We'll take a look at the nutrition profile of the regular recipe yellow cake mix versus the gluten-free yellow cake mix of, let's say, Betty's company (did I say too much?). They are almost identical. While I will concede that the gluten-free version of dry mix has slightly less fat, it more than makes up for it, since you have to add more oil (fat) in the mixing process.
The same thing is true pretty much across the board, at least in the bakes/breads/sweets/cakes market. Whether you buy it premade, or bake it at home, the gluten-free option, in general, is no better or worse than the regular option.
On top of all of this, everybody from The Scientific American to Macleans to The Today Show to Harvard Medical School (sources below, of course!) is warning of the potential dangers of going gluten free if you don't need to.
So if it's not healthier and most people don't need it, why are so many people eating it? We all know it's not because of the taste. I would bet any amount of money that in a blind taste test, my regular cake could beat any gluten-free cake, hands down. And it's not that gluten-free cake's fault. It's trying, it really is, but there's just no way rice flour and potato starch can live up to delicious, delicious gluten.
So, unless I hear otherwise, for now, I'll take my bread with butter, fresh jam and an extra helping of gluten.