FREE-FROM FOOD FAQS

It’s a com­plex food trend. Vic­to­ria Tip­per, nu­tri­tion coach at Dubai Herbal & Treat­ment Cen­tre, tells us what to buy

Friday - - Well-Being -

How do you de­fine ‘free-from foods’? ‘Free-from’ foods are man­u­fac­tured to elim­i­nate the foods many peo­ple are ei­ther in­tol­er­ant or al­ler­gic to, such as gluten or dairy. How­ever, food com­pa­nies across the world are us­ing free-from foods to tar­get those try­ing to avoid cer­tain food groups, such as fat-free or sugar-free, lead­ing the con­sumer to, of­ten falsely, be­lieve they are buy­ing a health­ier prod­uct.

So you be­lieve free-from foods are not nec­es­sar­ily healthy, since they re­place the al­ler­gens with un­healthy in­gre­di­ents? Just be­cause a free-from food elim­i­nates an al­ler­gen or food in­tol­er­ance you might have, that doesn’t make that food a healthy choice. For ex­am­ple, many pro­cessed free-from gluten foods con­tain more sugar and fats to make up for the lack of gluten. How­ever, for those who suf­fer from coeliac dis­ease or gluten al­lergy, th­ese foods are a life-saver.

Why do you think th­ese foods have be­come so pop­u­lar in the last few years? Elim­i­nat­ing foods such as dairy and gluten

has be­come very pop­u­lar – peo­ple are feel­ing bet­ter after they elim­i­nate th­ese from their di­ets. What has added to the at­trac­tion is the fact that it is en­dorsed by celebri­ties. When stun­ning Hol­ly­wood star Gwyneth Pal­trow, for ex­am­ple, ad­vo­cates cut­ting out foods like dairy, gluten, soy and caf­feine, the trend will surely find a fan fol­low­ing.

But what’s wor­ry­ing is how mar­keters pro­mote such foods so that the con­sumer be­lieves it to be a healthy prod­uct, not re­al­is­ing it is ac­tu­ally higher in calo­ries than the nor­mal prod­uct they might buy. I also be­lieve that more and more peo­ple are suf­fer­ing from di­ges­tive health prob­lems and this can be re­lated to liv­ing more stress­ful lives and the overuse of med­i­ca­tions such as an­tibi­otics. Un­der those con­di­tions our di­ges­tive sys­tem is bur­dened, leav­ing peo­ple bloated, mal­nour­ished and feel­ing gen­er­ally worse after eat­ing those foods that can be more chal­leng­ing to di­gest, such as gluten.

So it’s not that they are nec­es­sar­ily al­ler­gic, coeliac or in­tol­er­ant, but they need to boost over­all di­ges­tive health to feel bet­ter.

Are health ben­e­fits of free-from foods real or is it merely a placebo ef­fect? If you are some­one who has an al­lergy or in­tol­er­ance to that food in­gre­di­ent then you do need to avoid it and you will feel bet­ter, so in that re­gard, hav­ing free-from foods will al­le­vi­ate symp­toms. There are also many free-from foods that are health­ier op­tions – for ex­am­ple choos­ing buck­wheat pan­cakes over a wheat pan­cake is bet­ter, or choos­ing co­conut milk yo­gurt or ke­fir in­stead of stan­dard cow’s milk yo­gurt is a good choice. Ideally you choose foods that are nat­u­rally free-from foods, rather than the pro­cessed prod­ucts. This in­cludes fruit, veg­eta­bles, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, whole­grains, eggs, meat, fish and poul­try.

How do we make a more in­formed choice when in the free-from aisle? Not all free-from foods are bad, of course, there are some great prod­ucts out there, but you just have to be­come a la­bel de­tec­tive and make sure you know what you are putting into your body. So if you are buy­ing some­thing with a food la­bel, go for a prod­uct that has very few in­gre­di­ents and know what those in­gre­di­ents are. If you can­not recog­nise any of the in­gre­di­ents men­tioned on the pack­ag­ing, step away from it. Also avoid foods that have any form of sugar in the first three-four in­gre­di­ents, as this means it is high in sugar.

Why has gluten be­come such a huge di­etary vil­lain? Can we choose or­ganic wheat flour in­stead? Gluten is cer­tainly the most well-known food to be elim­i­nated in the free-from cat­e­gory. If a per­son is coeliac, then any form of wheat will cause an au­toim­mune re­sponse, so they must avoid any form of gluten (wheat, rye, bar­ley and some oats), in which case or­ganic wheat is not an op­tion.

When you go for non-or­ganic wheat, you choose a type of wheat that has been ge­net­i­cally grown and is of­ten known as Franken­wheat. This type of wheat, some ar­gue, is more dif­fi­cult for us to di­gest when com­pared to or­ganic wheat. But there are also stud­ies sug­gest­ing this is not the case. Still, I rec­om­mend you choose or­ganic if you can to keep your body as clean as pos­si­ble. Gluten is found in so many foods, from sausages, soups, salad dress­ing and stock cubes to even sup­ple­ments and med­i­ca­tions. Its abil­ity to re­main in so many foods may con­trib­ute to its culi­nary vil­lain’s rep­u­ta­tion as avoid­ing it be­comes quite the chal­lenge.

‘If you AVOID PRO­CESSED foods you’d be eat­ing healthily. This is a great way to live. Hav­ing said that, a TREAT here and there is ab­so­lutely fine, as long as you GET BACK to eat­ing healthy at the next meal’

Does eat­ing healthy mean eat­ing no pro­cessed food at all? Cer­tainly. If you avoided pro­cessed foods you would be eat­ing healthily and this is a great way to live.

Hav­ing said that, a rare treat here and there is ab­so­lutely fine, as long as you get back to eat­ing healthy at the next meal.

A doc­tor in 1996 coined the term or­thorexia ner­vosa to de­scribe his pa­tients’ un­healthy ob­ses­sion with eat­ing cleanly and purely. It lit­er­ally trans­lates as ‘fix­a­tion on righteous eat­ing’.

He found that peo­ple might be­come ob­ses­sive to the point it to­tally con­sumes them and this can lead to iso­la­tion or feel­ings of guilt and self-loathing if they de­vi­ate from their rules of healthy eat­ing.

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