Where Ignorance is Bliss...

Feb. 11, 2020

A lot of people are misguided about how much avoiding gluten will help them. But that's not necessarily bad.

An Irish consumer advocacy organization calling itself safefood has come out with a report on misconceptions about gluten-free food. The report’s conclusions, as summarized in a press release titled “New safefood research reveals gluten-free snack foods are not as healthy as people think,” are...well, the title pretty much says it all. To look at specific numbers:

  • 23% of respondents bought gluten-free foods;
  • More than 90% of them did not have celiac disease (unsurprising, since this condition – an inability to digest gluten – afflicts only 1% of the population);
  • 75% of gluten-free snack foods studied by the researchers were high in fat and 69% were high in sugar.

My first reaction was that safefood's name checks all of my personal stylistic annoyance boxes: lowercase and bold and italicized. My second reaction, after looking at their website, was to conclude that they’re a bunch of killjoys. Links on their homepage include “New safefood research reveals protein bars not as healthy as people think”; “Northern Ireland children are eating 7 times more ‘Treat” foods on a daily basis than recommended”; “START campaign says that parents who say no to treats are heroes.”

Their point may be well taken about gluten-free food, which is not really useful for people who can ingest gluten normally. Except they’re kind of being killjoys about that too, at least indirectly. Before gluten-free became a huge fad, celiac disease victims had only a limited variety of unappealing, unsavory foods to choose from. But the widespread misconceptions about the benefits of gluten-free eating have spiked demand and, therefore, increased the quantity and quality of gluten-free foods. That is a genuine boon for those few who actually need and can benefit from it.

In other words, even ignorance can sometimes be beneficial. Which is good, because there’s so much of it around.

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