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.
Spot on about gluten-free foods unless you have a medical condition. Eat clean. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store. Make it homemade like our grandma did. Processed food is the problem.
HF, thanks for your comment! I actually think it’s even more important for people with celiac and other medical conditions to avoid processed gluten-free foods :-)
I’m a little surprised by this given that the article seems to promote eating a wide variety of food rather than eliminating any – and wheat comes out as better than many/most gluten-free options.
M, I totally agree!
Sherry Bradley says
Lets remember that with newer research we’re learning more and more about how gluten and gliadin (the other protein in wheat) are inflammatory, regardless of celiac disease, and can still cause damage to the gut lining over time, especially if your micro-flora is poor or imbalanced. Also, wheat, like many other plant foods (nuts/legumes) contain anti-nutrients that prevent our bodies from absorbing most of the nutrients in the first place (though one exception could be sourdough; sourdough bread, the kind absent of commercial yeast, is processed in such a away that gluten and anti-nutrients weaken and nutrients become more available and the inflammatory response diminished). So, would I rather eat wheat with inflammatory proteins and anti-nutrients or some tapioca starch, in moderation, with no inflammatory proteins and a little bit of iron to boot. That’s an easy decision for me. Both are high carbs both provide calories for energy, both have little nutrient availability (unless sourdough), but one is definitely more harmful than the other: WHEAT (especially if you purchase the GMO wheat).
Thanks Sherry! I’ve been grain-free since 2001. No gluten or grain here :-)
Kat M says
I could not agree with this more! But I had no idea that wheat was technically more nutritious than the substitute flours!
Years ago to control my lupus I was told to eliminate all grains. That plus Chinese medicine pretty much made my lupus disappear. I don’t know what triggered me but I started thinking gluten free foods would be ok. The packaged foods mostly disgusted me! I couldn’t believe all the bad ingredients and how people would think that just because it said gluten free meant that it was healthy. And so expensive! So what I did was bake everything myself thinking it’s not really processed food if all I’m buying is processed flour, right? Well it made me pack on the pounds which is a struggle because of my condition I can only control weight with my diet at the moment. Over the summer I saw Applegate chicken nuggets on sale and thought they might be fun. The choices were organic or gluten free. I grabbed the gluten free after reading the ingredients in a hurry. It wasn’t until I got home and realized they weren’t also organic so I reread the ingredients slowly to double check and realized the corn flour was not organic which meant GMO. OOPS!
Is it any surprise that since I’ve been eating like this, my blood work is now showing problems? (I’m since back on track)
Hamilton family says
Could not agree more. Our family actually became ill from trying the gluten free lifestyle as inspired by the book Grain Brain. We ate no wheat products and made sure that all products were not even gluten contaminated for weeks. We noticed that our immune systems became compromised. Lost a ton of weight- which non of us needed to lose and noticed it took longer to heal from normal viruses. If you don’t have a medical condition that requires you to illiminate gluten, then don’t do it for “fad” sake.
I too could not agree more. My daughter says she’s gluten intolerant and has been for some time. So I recently assumed maybe I had the same problem. I don’t have any of the “symptoms,” but hopped on the GF bread thing anyway –trying to overlook those strange ingredients and added sugar. But no longer. Tomorrow I’m going back to my trusty Ezechiel bread. :-)
“eat the rainbow” I love it!!!!! especially since my cortido that finished fermenting yesterday is purple!!
Jennifer R says
I am allergic to nut and eggs as well as gluten, so grain free bakery products and recipes don’t really work for me. I buy the Food For Life Brown Rice bread once a month or so, and eat it sparingly. I am also allergic or sensitive to chicken, lamb, and beef (and fish, shellfish, and peanuts, sigh). Fruits, veggies, and beans are most of what I eat now, along with coconut milk.
Hadel toma says
I’m a vegan and I won’t eat animals.
I feel that some who go on a gluten free diet are disillusioned and uninformed when they decide to make this change. They still crave a sense of normalcy with the foods they are used to eating and as a result eat unhealthy gf alternative products that are just as bad as What they gave up. My mom has been on this type of gf diet for years and can’t understand why she still suffers from arthritis and doesn’t lose any weight. She simply is too attached to her old way of eating that and has an emotional connection to the foods she eats. I have found that letting go to the emotional connection of food and viewing it from a standpoint of nourishment as opposed to a source of pleasure helped to make it easier o give up the foods that I was so attached to. Thank you to Elana for exposing this misconception in what is now an increasingly saturated market of gluten free products. Making good choices is easy when you educate yourself with the facts!
Victoria H. says
I’ve experienced this “trap” personally. When I was diagnosed gluten/dairy sensitive 3 years ago I got so distracted with the “gluten free” offerings in the market my normal reading the ingredients seemed to go out the window. After 6 months I realized I had developed some very bad habits (albeit “gluten free”) – think Udi’s double chocolate muffins where the FIRST ingredient is corn syrup….YIKES! I was in total denial. Back to eating whole, clean foods with treats as an exception. About a year ago I stumbled across a Paleo cookbook – I don’t consider myself Paleo – but by default these recipes are all gluten & dairy free. These recipes also align with my beliefs in eating “real” foods as the major part of my diet and keeping processed foods down to a bare minimum. I do not feel deprived but I do feel very good about eating in a way that has been nothing but good for my overall health.