This post will help address the gluten free myths and if gluten free is really healthier, breaking down some of the science based facts, and discussing gluten free facts and myths.
Gluten free diets are trendy. But, are they really necessary?
Diet companies, food marketers and the like are claiming “gluten free” foods to be healthier and “cleaner” than gluten alternatives. And for those people who suffer from celiac disease, this can’t be argued. They do need to avoid gluten products.
But, what about the rest of us?
Is the Gluten Free Diet Healthy?
The majority of people fall prey to gluten-free marketing tactics and/or may not necessarily have an understanding of gluten and its role in foods.
So, just what does gluten friendly mean?
Gluten is actually a protein. It’s found in various grains, and sometimes other ingredients as an additive. Many whole grains that contain gluten also offer various vitamins and minerals, iron and fiber, therefore making it an important accomplice for bulking the diet, encouraging normal digestion, and helping us feel fuller.
What do people think about gluten?
Actually, 63% of Americans believe that a gluten-free diet is equivalent to improved physical and mental health.
Plus, there’s also the fact that products can contain up to 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten and still be labeled “gluten free,” meaning there may still be minuscule amounts in these products.
Gluten and gluten-friendly alternatives were important topics that came up often throughout my dietetic internship working in foodservice and worksite wellness with Nike.
Like many places today, Nike offers several “gluten-free” substitutes, which can provide a huge peace of mind for those who are sensitive to gluten. I think it’s great that places are offering gluten alternatives, but consumers shouldn’t necessarily make gluten-free their diet default.
Some companies now use “gluten free” as a marketing coy to increase the price of their products and make their product seem more nutritious than it may truly be.
Potatoes, hummus, avocados, meat, dairy that show claims to be gluten free – guess what – they are inherently gluten-free and don’t need a fancy label that helps mark their price up.
Gluten is the new villain in today’s nutrition fads, just like fat used to be in the 90’s.
There is so much false information out there. Let’s dispel some myths.
Myths About What Is Gluten Friendly (and what is not Gluten Friendly)
Will gluten make us fat? No. You’re also not going to necessarily lose weight by going gluten-free. If you do, it’s likely from other diet and/or lifestyle changes.
Does gluten-free mean all-natural and organic ingredients? No.
Should we avoid gluten? We shouldn’t avoid gluten unless we have a medical reason to do so. Because elimination of entire food groups can lead to many nutrient deficiencies, dietitians don’t normally resort to elimination diets unless they are absolutely necessary.
For the majority of us, gluten is actually a healthy part of our diet and lifestyles. While gluten is normally found in and associated with carbohydrate products, it is not the same as carbohydrates, and many healthy carbohydrates do NOT contain gluten.
What Foods Have Gluten?
- some oats (due to cross-contamination)
- beer products
- soy sauce and other sauces
- food coloring
- some cosmetic products.
What Foods Don’t Have Gluten?
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- lean meats
- sweet potatoes
- dairy (more about dairy vs dairy alternatives here)
- fats including nuts/seeds, flax, chia, oils, coconut, avocado.
How Do You Know if You Should Avoid gluten?
While some people may be sensitive to gluten, only 1% of the population actually has Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune response to the ingestion of gluten, causing damage to one’s intestine and leading to malabsorption of nutrients, anemia, and/or even unexplained weight loss.
Some people may not have Celiac’s, but may experience sensitivity to gluten-containing foods, leading to painful abdominal or bloated feelings. These individuals may feel better with limited or no amounts of gluten in their diets as well.
What Else Should You Know About Gluten?
- Wheat-free does not always mean gluten-free (but gluten-free does mean wheat-free).
- Providing gluten-free options and substitutions is absolutely necessary for some people, while it may seem attractive and enticing to others. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier than other options.
- Gluten-free does NOT equal healthy. Many gluten-free products have less protein, and more fat, sodium, added sugars and even calories than gluten-containing products. Label reading and comparison is important.
It is relatively easy to substitute recipes for non-gluten containing flours and ingredients today, thanks to companies like Bob’s Red Mill.
While I do sometimes cook and bake with ingredients that are naturally gluten-free (like gluten free chocolate chip pancakes, quinoa pizza bites, gluten free fish sticks, gluten free pasta salad), I have never experienced any negative side effects from gluten and I do include it in my daily diet.
I realize this may not be the most comfortable or ideal diet for everyone, and I am in no way bashing gluten-free diets. Moreso, I want to provide some information and knowledge that may be helpful to some of you.
If you have removed or are thinking about removing gluten from your diet, I strongly suggest talking to a Registered Dietitian who can ensure that you don’t become deficient in nutrients such as B-vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium, among others.
Gluten or no gluten?
Do you purchase any gluten free products?