How a gluten-free diet helps me be greener (and healthier!)
Even though it might seem too complicated for some, a diet free of gluten can be better for you and better for the environment.
Saturday, August 29, 2009 - 19:54
About seven months ago, I received the results of a lab test that changed my life forever: they led to a diagnosis of celiac disease. Also known as celiac sprue, this digestive disorder is an autoimmune reaction to gluten, a protein found in all forms of wheat, rye, barley and triticale. The only treatment is to avoid foods that contain gluten.
From one day to the other, I was deprived of bread, pizza, pasta, beer, cookies, cupcakes and doughnuts, to mention a few. Gluten can also be found in many processed foods as a food additive in the form of flavoring, or as stabilizing or thickening agent. In such cases, producers are not required to include the protein on the label because it is classified as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA. This means avoiding products containing ingredients such as food flavoring, modified food starch, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, glucose syrup and more. I have found that most processed foods contain these ingredients, which is why I do my best to avoid them altogether.
I put together a list why I think a gluten-free diet is helping me lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
- No more canned food, frozen meals or other highly processed foods. Reading through all the labels can be a real pain, which is why it has been easier for me to cook meals entirely from scratch. Instead of using ready-to-eat salsa to make enchiladas like I used to, now I take the time to roast chili and mix them with the right amount of oregano, cumin, sea salt, garlic and tomato paste. Processed foods carry a larger energy tag than fresh food, since they require more energy to produce. They often have ingredients that can be very unhealthy, like trans-fat and sodium.
- If I do need canned food, let’s say, canned tomato paste, I go for organic. Organic products tend to label products more thoroughly, which is why they make me feel safer. There is no scientific evidence that organic is healthier, but it is better for the environment.
- No more fast food for me. Although there is an emerging trend of eco-friendly fast food restaurants, a lot of it is nothing but greenwashing. Most-fast food chains have large carbon footprints and produce massive amount of packaging wastes. Check out the cheeseburger carbon footprint.
- Supporting local business. In my town,
, the best carrier for organic/gluten-free/all-natural foods is People's Grocery Cooperative. People's mission is, "to provide a marketing and purchasing outlet for minimally processed, high quality nutritional food and other goods and services." While I'm picking up my favorite gluten-free rice crackers, I hardly resist the temptation to grab some locally produced honey and chemical-free soap (also produced in Manhattan, Kansas . Kansas)
Although it has been hard to adjust to my new dietary needs, I have to admit it has definitely been worth it. Elisabeth Hacklebeck, author of the G-Free Diet, goes as far as to recommend everyone -- including those without gluten sensitivity -- to adopt the gluten-free diet.
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