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Food for thought: an open mind can improve nutrition

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Having a casual conversation with people about different foods and restaurants can often lead to more details about a person’s life. Their religious affiliation may include dietary restrictions. Their health issues might necessitate their avoidance of certain foods. Their chosen social consciousness may revolve around only eating particular food groups. And then, there are just the garden-variety picky eaters who only have a limited palate.

Sometimes though, a conversation can drift into that gray area of ‘diets’ that can make people feel uncomfortable (or even hostile). Why is it different when people talk about food and relate it to another facet of their lives (religion, health, or social consciousness) from a chosen diet regime?

On the one side, the ‘tellers’ are usually excited and motivated by their choice of diet. And, let’s face it - some people can be preach-y when they talk about the ‘one-true-way-to-eat-for-life.’ On the other side, the ‘listeners’ might be a little self-conscious about their own bad habits that have led to not feeling their best and subsequent feelings of defensiveness. Recently, there have been a lot of snarky comments in the news about gluten-free eaters and the surge in product options that are gluten-free in supermarkets and restaurant menus.

Even The New Yorker magazine got on a lighthearted bandwagon when it published a cartoon the week of April 28, 2014 that was captioned, "I've only been gluten-free for a week, but I'm already really annoying."(http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/I-ve-only-been-gluten-free-for-a-week-but-I-m-already-really-annoying-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i10691199_.htm) As recently as June 16, The New York Times proclaimed in a headline, 'Gluten-free eating appears to be here to stay' (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/18/dining/gluten-free-eating-appears-to-be-here-to-stay.html). Really.

However, every once in a while, there is an opportunity for what might be called a ‘teaching and learning moment’ where food and diets and choices converge.

While being asked about the content of this column, a question was asked by someone who was not familiar with what benefits there were for people to eat gluten-free foods and products who did not have to for health reasons. Here is the response given.

There are many nutritional benefits to wheat-based products as well as convenience, affordability, and availability. Unfortunately, there are many products that have gluten and gluten derivatives used as fillers and preservatives that do nothing but take away from a quality food product. As an example, Stubb’s Legendary Bar-B-Q sauces, marinades, and rubs are all made with pure ingredients (spices, oils, juices, vinegars, etc.) that do not include wheat gluten. Other purveyors of similar products choose to use wheat gluten as a thickener and/or flavor enhancer. Choosing products and prepared foods that are labeled gluten-free is one way to find many “regular” products that are of a higher quality just like Stubb’s product assortment (http://www.stubbsbbq.com/products/).

The same example can be applied to the product of corn syrup. Corn syrup is a sugar. If it is in desserts, it is reasonable and makes sense (a sugar in a sweet product, of course!). If corn syrup is in tomato sauce, sandwich bread, and frozen dinner entrees, it becomes an ingredient that says the manufacturer just might be trying to use fillers and cheap ingredients (as well as making their products undesirable to customers who cannot or don't want to eat sugars).

Bottom line – we can all learn from one another about healthful options with open minds and sharp eyes on ingredient labels.

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