The gluten-free craze: To be or not to be gluten-free?

In Lebanon, the quantity of shops and bakeries producing and selling gluten-free products is booming by the minute.
by Perla Kantarjian

4 March 2019 | 16:18

Source: by Annahar

  • by Perla Kantarjian
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 4 March 2019 | 16:18

This representational photo shows white toast bread. (AFP Photo)

BEIRUT: Gluten is a family of proteins found in a plethora of grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. In recent years, the term “gluten-free” has sparked much debate, and some people have not been crazy about the idea of giving up some of their favorite foods because they contain a compound that is harmful to their bodies.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, there are troops of people who consider gluten a poisonous enemy.

“I have always had an obsession with fluffy loaves of bread and pastries,” Sally Touma told Annahar. “But when I realized they were the reason for my constant bloating and drowsiness, I completely eliminated them from my diet, even though I’m neither gluten intolerant, nor have celiac disease.”

Traditionally, bread has always been a staple food, and once upon a time, the only type of flour available in supermarkets was wheat flour. However, with the introduction of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) into the food industry, and the increase of diverse culinary preferences, markets are now stocked with a variety of flours to tend to the market demand of GMO-free and gluten-free products.

The Lebanese cuisine incorporates gluten-containing wheat flour into its recipes to a large extent. When someone goes to a Lebanese restaurant, for instance, they don’t even need to use a fork! There’s always the warm pita bread on the table playing the role of kitchen utensil, carrying the “baba ghannouj” or “hummus” straight onto your taste buds. Talk about an explosion of flavors! The same applies to the “man’oushe,” which is mostly prepared with gluten-containing flours unless the bakery of choice has gluten-free options, which a growing number of bakeries are adding to their menu.

“People who have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, suffer from intestinal damage after consuming gluten,” clinical dietician Nadine Hilal said. “This disease is often mistaken for gluten intolerance which, despite sharing similar symptoms, is different.”

She then added that gluten and wheat are two different compounds and that “a person may be gluten-sensitive but still be able to consume gluten-free wheat, unless they are also allergic to wheat. Also, if a person is gluten intolerant, that does not necessarily mean they have celiac disease. Gluten intolerant people have negative reactions to gluten indeed, but this reaction does not cause intestinal damage, as it does for people with celiac disease.”

Various studies suggest that modern wheat has been genetically modified, alongside the most familiar foods, such as corn and soy. Hilal is an advocate of these studies. “The form of wheat has been altered and hybridized for wheat fields to yield more crops, and contain more gluten (a protein), which is what makes bread rise. Also, livestock feed on wheat and genetically modified wheat intake will make cows, chicken, and sheep grow faster, thus accelerating the pace of animal production,” she told Annahar.

In Lebanon, the quantity of shops and bakeries producing and selling gluten-free products is booming by the minute. One of those shops is “Chi Tabi3i” located in Jal El Dib. Elias Naoum, one of the owners of the healthy store said that “the demand for gluten-free is increasing so much to the point that half of our shop items are gluten-free now.”

He also discussed how there are various substitutes to gluten in giving the baking dough strength and elasticity, such as tapioca, xantham gum, and guar gum.

“The gluten-free flours include quinoa, millet, chickpea, rice, amaranth, almond, teff, coconut, and lots more,” Naoum said.

Samer Tahan, a gluten-intolerant adolescent, told Annahar:  “Just because my body does not accept gluten does not mean I cannot eat bread or cake or pastry. For the last four years, I have been baking my own versions of them by just replacing wheat flour with gluten-free ones, and they always turn out tasting amazing, without hurting my body in any way.”

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Visit celiac.org for a list of gluten-containing foods

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