Gluten Free is not healthy? Blasphemy –you must think someone has hijacked my blog, but it’s true. Just because a food is gluten free does not mean it is healthy.
Sadly, the recent popularity of “gluten free” has many thinking that if they eliminate gluten, they are on a healthy diet. As Michael Pollan wrote last year in the New York Times Magazine, “Gluten has become the bad nutrient of the moment.”
I think it’s time for those of us in the gluten free blogoshpere to admit that villainizing one ingredient is not enough when it comes to eating well.
With all of the hype surrounding gluten free, no one mentions the dirty little secret of the Standard Gluten Free Diet. Few realize that when it comes to gluten free baked goods such as bread, snacks, and desserts, gluten free food is not as nutritious as “regular” food. That’s because gluten free goods are generally made with ingredients such as rice, corn, potatoes, sorghum, tapioca and millet, which are higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein and other nutrients than wheat flour. Sad, but true. The typical gluten free ingredients that are used in place of wheat are less nutritious than wheat itself.
The Gluten Free diet is a very specific requirement for very specific people –those with celiac, gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity. People with these conditions have to eliminate gluten from their diets to make sure their body doesn’t deteriorate. Let’s remember though, that doing so doesn’t actually speak to eating the diet and consuming the foods that allow your body to thrive. Those are two separate things. Therefore, the millions of Americans jumping on the gluten free bandwagon, who believe that eliminating one ingredient is a quick fix are short changing themselves.
If you have any of the above conditions (and it’s a good idea to go to a doctor and get tested if you think you might) remove gluten from your diet. For that matter, if something makes you feel sick, get it out of your diet! However, if you think eliminating one food gives you a free pass to eat processed gluten free goods made from rice, corn, etc., and that this will make you healthy, guess again.
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The best path to wellness is a well rounded diet which includes many foods –it is far more work than simply bastardizing one ingredient, such as gluten.
What does eating healthy entail? Consuming a diverse array of nutrient dense foods every day; day after day. When I was a little girl, my Dad told me to eat the rainbow. So I’m staying away from fad diets and sticking with Dad’s advice. I have to agree with him, eating close to the earth is, and always has been, the way to go.
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I agree, and was thinking this recently. I’m only on a gluten free diet for the past few months. Before this I ate all whole foods and little processed, now I’m eating bread baked with white refined flours, refined pastas, and other refined foods as a result of having to use gluten free flour. I dislike all this refined food but if I’m going to be gluten free I seem to have no other choice. Apart from that of course I eat healthy, and try not to buy these bars you can get in the health food shops as I believe they might contain lots of fats.
Anyway its all a learning process isn’t it.
Thank you so much for the information!
My toddler is allergic to wheat (diagnosed by both scratch test & blood testing) & I was horrified by the wheat free alternatives on the market. The sugar & salt content seems to be excessive, which could be to mask the disgusting after taste from the guar gum! Since the diagnosis we actually eat a LOT better because I make almost everything from scratch! Pizza night is now home made pizza night, burger night is now home made burger night & all the treats are home baked too. The kids are getting a lot less e-numbers in their diet & their behaviour is out of sight better & DH & I have lost 14kg between us with more going each month!
I object to the gluten free goods being in the health food aisle because I think it misleads people into thinking that the product is good for them.
K. Blue says
I can not claim to have a chronic gastrointestional condition, but there were times when I was young, that I would react to what I have deduced to be certain types of processed dairy. Thank you for your wonderful insight Elena. I understand what your getting at and it made me rethink WHY I was interested in gluten-free diets.
Being healthy is a multi-faceted endeavor, and for some people it is more difficult than others due to various genetic predispositions. HOWEVER, I do believe that society has become accustomed to foods of convenience. Foods loaded down with sugar and foods that act like sugar. The big double whammy is wheat. Additional protein aside (gluten does not contribute to essential amino acids), contains gluten and provides a blood sugar spike.
I agree with Megan above. Nutrition is something personal and not everyone is going to eat the same things. As long as a person makes a researched and rational decision to limit or exclude gluten from their diet, I don’t see why people can’t experiment (gluten intolerant or not).
Sometimes a person can expand their knowledge by sharing in the experiences of others.
A dear friend of mine was diagnosed with Chrone’s disease, and it prompted me to investigate dietary health. The world of food is wide and vast, and there is almost no limit (monetary perhaps) to the options available.
It is quite obvious that so many of you even if you have celiac disease don’t even understand what or why gluten free is required. First of all being gluten free is to save your life or correct a genetic defect. It is not a popular fad try on for the season and then bad mouth it if it does not work for you.
First gluten is a type of protein did you know that? It is not just because it is a grain —it is because of it being a specific type of protein. And that specific type of protein can wreak havoc on human beings who happen to have the type of small intestine damage which then cannot handle that type of protein because of several reasons.
It may be because of a mutation, deletion, partial or otherwise to the celiac gene. It also may be because the person may have another type of diagnosed or undiagnosed metabolic disorder that they can be born with or acquired because of a severe bacterial, viral, or other injury to the body from transplants, any one of the surgeries to staple, by pass or otherwise damage your stomach to loose weight–bariatric surgery. As one bariatric surgeon told me –we take perfectly good bodies and break them. And now they have also found out in the process they can create new metabolic disorders including those that may cause medical mayhem from ingesting protein.
In any case the villi in the small intestines is again becoming damaged and gluten can become the enemy as well as sources of other proteins. It may be the problem of too much protein like too much sugar for diabetes.
Thus going gluten free and choosing alternate grains lowers your intake of proteins. This type of diet is also used for kidney diseases, liver cancers and other diseases. Thus attacking gluten when you really don’t understand what you are attacking is wrong.
Sadly as the food industry does they get on the bad wagon trying to mimic what we who are ill have already been buying for years from certain sources –gluten free food—they wanted in on the market. Those in it for the money are easy to spot: breakfast cereals that say they are gluten free but have a boatload of other bad ingredients –and the same with any other product you eat throughout the day. And just because you buy it at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods does not mean the substitute ingredients are any better for you. For example I have learned about sorbitol poisoning in the worst way—hidden in an electrolyte product. However there are about 6-7 fruits that are your sorbitol enemies —and they are advertised as the best for you from the time you can drink juice —just paving the way for diabetes.
So instead of trying to follow fads and then complain about them. Understand what gluten free is all about. Discuss if you really need to be on it with your doctor–a geneticist or metabolic specialist. I have an endocrinologist, and two metabolic geneticists on my medical team along with liver and GI specialists. Believe me….gluten free may have to be a way of life to live. So please, under stand it, respect it, and if you don’t need it….enjoy regular food for me. I miss it but I know it can kill me. So I do without.
Please respect those of us that have to do so. Life is not easy….there are so many other foods I cannot have either –like a juicy red steak. A glass of wine. A roast pork. Thanks giving turkey. And no tofu is not an answer –soy is protein also. Soy can kill me also. I live on 30 grams of protein a day –gluten free. And there are babies, children, and adults dying with my disorders and diseases. Gluten Free is okay by me. Lucky you that can have your cake, eat too, and then complain. I hope you never have this fate.
Katherine Monk says
Realize this comment was from a few years ago but thank you for telling it like it is ;-)
Emmanuel Roux says
I participate to gluten free food shows and I am astonished by the poor quality of products displayed.
Gluten free junk food is still junk food
If most people would use a diet based on fresh organic products and local produce there might be less gluten sensitivity.
Thank you for good recipes.
Don’t forget that pleasure is also part of any sensible sustainable diet
Elana: Another GF food u may want to add your list – that is less nutritious than wheat (lower protein & higher carb profile)and has a higher GL (glycemic load) profile is arrowroot flour. Wheat’s GL = 14. Arrowhead root’s GL = 17. It has no proteins & 25g of carbs (vs. 21g with wheat flour). Arrowroot is a primary ingredient in your bread recipes. The other starches in GF flours (rice,tapioca, potato,etc..) are worst. It appears if we want to keep eating our breads, pizza, crackers,etc….while avoiding wheat – we have to bite the bullet & work with arrowroot & other higher glycemic GF flours. Ugh!!!
Great article. They are always saying what we “should not” eat but not telling us what we “should” eat.
You make more sense than anything I have read!