Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend a gluten- and allergen-free expo. Billed as a consumer event to meet the needs of the celiac community and others, the organizers proclaimed that “athletes and the health conscious community will greatly benefit from the expo’s offerings as well.” The website for the event says that the organizer “considers it her personal mission to help others who follow a restricted diet learn delicious, nutritious and convenient ways to live a happy and healthy life.”
There is nothing I would want to take issue with there, of course. It’s a challenge to have dietary restrictions, and those facing such obstacles welcome any support. The problem I had with the expo isn’t really about the event itself, it’s about the myopia that results when people become too focused on one single thing. Whether it’s an issue or an ingredient, considering one purpose or object—to the exclusion of everything else—is dangerous. In the case of a gluten-free expo, the single focus is avoiding products made from certain grains. There were gluten-free crackers, cookies, cakes, pizza crusts, personal care products and even beer. For the gluten-sensitive or allergic crowd, these goods represent the hope that a somewhat normal lifestyle may be within reach. But a step back—and a quick glance at labels—will reveal that such hope comes at a price, and the price may be other areas of health.
With few notable exceptions, nearly every gluten-free packaged product I picked up had great quantities of sugar or salt. Also seen in abundance were artificial flavorings and colors, preservatives and even other ingredients that are known allergens such as corn, soy, dairy, etc. But few of the attendees seemed to notice, and, in fact, not many read beyond the front of the packaging, where the words “gluten-free” were highlighted in bright colors with oversized fonts.
The truth is, people with compromised health—whether from sensitivities, allergies, immune deficiencies, diseases or other ailments—may well benefit from the encouragement they receive from others at expos or other support groups. What doesn’t help is trading one poison for another. But until we step back from the monovision idea—whether it’s avoiding gluten, cutting calories, eliminating fat, sidestepping sugar—and look at the whole picture, we’re rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. What if, instead, we ate mostly foods that did not even have ingredient labels? It’s possible. It’s easy. It even tastes good. Here’s an example of gluten-, dairy- and refined sugar-free yummy-ness at its best!
CHERRY BLONDIE MUFFIN CAKES
Yield: 2 servings
Mini food processor
1/2 cup macadamias
1/2 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons maple sugar
1/3 cup dried cherries
2 dates, pitted
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch sea salt
Combine the macadamias, walnuts and maple sugar in mini food processor. Pulse the nuts and sugar together until the mixture is ground into a coarse powder. Add the cherries and dates, and pulse until mixture is well incorporated.
Add the vanilla and a generous pinch of salt. Pulse several more times to distribute everything evenly. Transfer the mixture into two single muffin cups, and use your fingers to pack the mixture down tightly. Run a knife around the edge of the muffin cup, and invert the finished Cherry Blondie Muffin Cakes onto a plate.