Why Gluten Free Doesn’t Always Equal Healthy

Many people are under the assumption that leading a gluten free lifestyle is a healthy choice. While this is certainly true for some, leading a gluten free lifestyle takes a lot of research and understanding into what exactly makes any food healthy. The answer isn’t always what you think. Read on to find out why!

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A common misconception many people have is that gluten free equals healthy, but this is very far from the truth.  Think about it in terms of a side dish – which is more nutritious; a side of whole grain wheat berries or a side of white rice?  The wheat berries are of course; they are less processed and are a whole grain food that is high in fiber, protein and B vitamins.  The white rice is extremely processed and full of empty, starchy calories because it has had its husk, bran and germ removed to extend its storage life, minimize cooking times and help prevent spoilage.  Unfortunately, many gluten free products available contain white rice as their primary ingredient.  Rice flour is light and starchy, and combined with other heavier gluten free flours the blend creates a texture in baked goods similar to wheat flour.  Not to mention rice is cheap for manufacturers to get and there is no shortage of it!

So what to do?  If you follow a gluten free way of eating, try to limit eating processed foods as much as you can.  This is beneficial not only because you are eliminating empty calories, but you are also eliminating added sugar since packaged foods typically contain it.  If you do want to have some crackers, pretzels, or baked goods here and there, ALWAYS read the ingredient label!  Try to stay away from items that list white rice flour as the first ingredient.  Instead, opt for the primary ingredients to be whole grain brown rice, whole grain quinoa, sorghum, or millet.  There are also a whole host of foods that contain almond flour, coconut flour, and other grain free flours.

On the flip side, just because a product contains whole grain or grain free flours it does not mean processed foods are appropriate.  These foods are still highly processed and many of their nutrients are lost in the process.  Eating homemade whole grains is always best, but if you find yourself in a bind and you need to consume convenience foods, pay close attention to the labels and opt for the products made from whole grains with no added sugars.  Read about how to recognize sugars and the different forms they come in here.

If you take a walk through the grocery store you will see many products that are labeled, “Now, Gluten Free!”.  Of course, many of these products are newly developed and the labels are correct.  But if you look closer, these types of statements are typically marketing ploys to attract your attention.  Items such as orange juice and bacon are just a few examples. Bacon has never contained gluten and orange juice most certainly hasn’t either.  The best thing you can do is educate yourself so you don’t fall for these claims.  Manufacturers are hoping that you will buy their product because they are “Now, Gluten Free!” when in reality they always have been.

Remember, gluten free does not equal healthy.  The next time you’re at the store pulling a box of crackers off the shelf, read the ingredient label to know what you are purchasing and putting into your body.  You may find yourself making a decision to put it back on the shelf – so congratulations on being an informed consumer!

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Stefanie Gates, chef, is a regular contributor to our blog and a culinary advisor for PreviMedica. She enjoys developing recipes and creating cooking videos to share with our readers, as well as working one-on-one with our clients to teach them valuable cooking skills. You can learn more about her here.

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