Recently, Atlanta rapper Waka Flocka Flame made a small splash in the news regarding how he feels about veganism. The rapper had for a few years adhered to a strictly vegan diet, touting its health benefits and his desire to lose weight and live a more mindful lifestyle. However, in a short rant, he explained that just being vegan wasn’t quite enough for him, and that being vegan and being healthy aren’t one and the same. Aside from the fact that his friends would hide their food from him when he entered a room if it wasn’t vegan, he found that vegan food often wasn’t always as good for his health once he dug into the ingredients and nutritional value.
Waka Flocka Flame isn’t alone in his discovery — a recent study out of University of Hertfordshire found that items labelled “gluten free” aren’t necessarily healthier for consumers as they think just because of the label. Often called “Carb Free 2.0,” the societal vilification of gluten has sparked a whole new market for snack food makers and marketers. Some Americans are discovering latent gluten allergies that leave them with chronic pain in their joints, since their bodies can’t metabolize it. For others, though, the lure of “gluten free” is that it helps reduce the amount of calorie-dense foods like breads, pizza, pasta, cakes, Oreos, and fried foods.
While it’s likely all well and good that Americans are trying to reduce their caloric intake, the “gluten free” label doesn’t guarantee that a food is healthy, and in fact, it may make the food worse for consumers in other ways. Breads turned out to be the worst offenders. Gluten-free breads made with rice flour and other non-glutinous flours proved to have more salt and sugar than standard-floured breads.
For marketers, labelling a food “gluten free” and adorning the packaging with additional “natural” looking graphics was a gold mine. The intention of a gluten-free diet as doctors suggest it is to eat less processed foods and replace gluten-laden junk food with fruits and veggies. However, snack food execs realized that small recipe adjustments would allow them to continue marketing junk food to those who abide by a diet free from gluten — and for a price increase, at that. Because of the value of having food they like minus the gluten, consumers are willing to pay extra for foods that allow them all the comforts of gluten without the elastic proteins.