The Hidden Problem with Gluten

In the current food industry, there is one big word that both chefs and customers throw around with a whole lot of gravitas: gluten. Since we are part of a cooking school, of course we have an obligation to say something informative. Let’s start off by copying and pasting the first paragraph from the “Gluten” page on Wikipedia:

“Gluten (from Latin gluten, ‘glue’) is a composite of storage proteins termed prolamins and glutelines found in wheat and related grains, including barley, rye, oat, and all their species and hybrids (such as spelt, khorasan, emmer, einkorn, triticale, etc.)…It gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.”

THAT is gluten. The next time you are at a cocktail party, double date, or whatever applicable event, you should try busting out the above text to the best of your ability; the impression you make on the people you talk to will be more important than just saying, “WELL, I don’t know about gluten and could care less.”

Then what’s the issue with gluten? Well, there really isn’t one – not unless you have celiac disease. People with this genetic disorder follow a strict gluten-free diet, because if not, they might suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal bloating/pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Delayed growth/puberty
  • Irritability and behavioral issues
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool (yeah, we saved the best for last)

So there is a difference between the customers who say, “I’m a celiac. Do you happen to have any gluten-free food,” and the ones who blurt out, “I CANNOT HAVE GLUTEN AND I CANNOT GIVE YOU AN ACCURATE REASON WHY.” For the latter, their motivations aren’t too foreign – cutting down on gluten-based foods (mainly breads and pastas) does lead to increased weight-loss. However, as a cooking school, when we encounter people who order gluten-free food without knowing what they will be putting in their mouths, we tend to crack a smile.

With all that said, there is a hidden problem with gluten. If a person does not have celiac disease then they SHOULD DO NOT GO ENTIRELY GLUTEN FREE. A study in the BMJ states that going gluten-free means a person reduces their intake of whole grains (which are known to have cardiovascular-health benefits). So, if you decide to undertake a “gluten-free diet,” know that you will actually increase the risk of heart problems.

There is a silver lining to all of this (especially to the reader who has done a gluten-free diet). The BMJ study saw no noteworthy association between . In other words, if you’ve cut out gluten in your foods, you’ll feel more instances of heartburns, not heart attacks.

So go ahead, non-celiacs: eat as much (or as little) gluten to your heart’s content! We just hope that you’ll remember this little piece of trivia as you do so.


Poem – Ode to Asparagus

Asparagus, asparagus, let me sing thy praise.
Your reign as “Food of Kings” will endure to the end of days.

That Louis Quatorze of France, he loved you so dear
That he had greenhouse built especially to grow you throughout the year.

Yes, he was but one of many in a long line of fans,
Dating back to the Greeks, The Romans, even the ancient Egyptians.

You delight us in springtime, when all is anew,
Pleasing our palates as only you can do.

In your generosity you offer us a choice of green or white.
But we cannot declare one superior to the other, for that would not be right.

It has come to be that we Yanks favor your bright green spears,
While those on the continent have preferred white through the years.

We can certainly all agree that in the kitchen none can compare
To all that you have to offer, all that with us you do share.

For on any menu of worth we find you filling many roles, gracefully omnipresent –
As an appetizer, a refreshing salad, or perchance, as an accompaniment to pheasant.

You allow our culinary creativity to take flight and flourish,
As we ponder just exactly how best to prepare you for that unique and stellar dish.

Will we blanch you?  Steam you?  Saute you?  Or will we cook you not at all?
Since in your natural, raw state you also offer much and do us ever enthrall.

To peel, or not to peel, there are those who would debate the merits,
Since it is not as straightforward a matter as it would be with, say, some carrots.

However, that debate may be settled, we vow to cook you with the greatest finesse,
Mindful of not overcooking your spears or gentle tips, leaving you a mushy mess!

No, we would never disgrace you in such fashion, behaving with reckless abandon.
We would first get out of the kitchen and deservedly hang up our apron.

In gratitude for your many gifts to us, we make you this solemn vow,
And may our words ring true each spring, as they do in the here and now.

Written by Sarah Schuler
Former Student of Pascal Dionot