Let’s face it – gluten free (GF) has become mainstream. You can barely pick up a magazine, read a label or scroll through your feed on facebook without seeing those words. Which is actually a very refreshing change from just a few years ago, when, if you needed to follow a gluten free diet, then the whole concept was generally pretty alien and it was hard to find GF choices. Today it’s significantly easier to follow a gluten free diet. Many products are now being marketed to the gluten free crowd. However, not all gluten free products are created equal.
Remember my two main tenets for choosing healthy food:
- If your great-grandmother didn’t eat it, then neither should you
- If you don’t know what the ingredients are, then you shouldn’t eat it
So what does that mean for gluten free options? Well, let’s start at the beginning. What is gluten? Basically, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye (and a few other lesser known grains). Therefore, if you have a gluten sensitivity, you need to avoid these foods. And given the prevalence of wheat-based additives in many products on our grocery shelves (particularly flavoring, stabilizing and thickening agents), it can be complicated, so it takes awareness and diligence.
Recently, more and more labels are sporting the term “gluten free,” which in theory should make it easier to find foods we can eat. However, if you look closely at the labels of many of these products, you’ll find that the gluten has been replaced with loads of other chemicals and additives that simply aren’t good for you.
So when considering gluten free choices, always keep those two main nutritional guidelines in mind as well. My goal for you is to eat whole, natural, unprocessed foods. Too many of the products marketed as gluten free simply substitute other kinds of unhealthy additives. So while you may not be as overtly sensitive to those chemicals or additives as you are to gluten, they may still have adverse effects on your health.
In looking at labels, be particularly aware of gums. Gluten gives food its sticky texture so when you take gluten out you often have to use gums and other thickeners like carrageenan to bind the products together. These additives can be very problematic to your digestive system. Click here to learn more.
An additional issue with gluten free products is that even if the grain that is being used in the product does not contain gluten, it is still a starch. Starches are polysaccharides (a type of carbohydrate) that have a dramatic impact on your blood sugar. These types of carbohydrates raise blood sugar quickly, thereby setting off a complex chemical reaction involving insulin changes that may leave you feeling fatigued, irritable and hungry shortly after consuming them. The over-consumption of starches in America has greatly contributed to problems with blood sugar regulation and the overwhelming increase in the number of both adults and children being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. For overall health and weight loss it is best to limit the starches in your diet, whether they contain gluten or not.
So remember – going gluten free in a healthy way can be a bit tricky. Reading the label is always important, even if a products advertises itself as being gluten free and “all natural” or “organic”. A healthy diet contains a balance of proteins, fats and simple carbohydrates that come from foods as close to nature as possible.