Are gluten-free foods healthy?

That is a loaded question. I know if you are reading this article it’s likely that you steadfastly believe that wheat is a poison and you proudly display “Wheat Belly” on your bookshelf. However, just because you don’t ingest gluten, there are some gluten-free foods on grocery store shelves that you might want to take a closer look at.

Natural gluten-free foods are very nutritious and healthy.  Most people won’t dispute that gluten free foods like vegetables and quinoa are healthy.

Yet, we are now inundated with gluten-free packaged foods at the grocery store. Foods that have always been gluten free (i.e. Rice Chex) now sport a “Gluten-Free” label and have a slick new marketing campaign. Along with this has come the misguided assumption that anything with gluten-free on the label is healthy. This couldn’t be further from the truth! 

Packaged gluten-free = empty calories

Packaged gluten-free baked goods (breads, cookies, bagels) replace traditional wheat flour with ingredients such as tapioca, corn, and potato. These starches and flours have less nutritional value than whole wheat flour in that they contain less of the good stuff that wheat contains… fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc. Yes, ironically these substitute products are less healthy than the wheat itself.  For instance, a common substitute ingredient is tapioca starch which is used in Udi’s Gluten Free breads.  Not only is tapioca starch very high in carbohydrates and calories (much more than wheat flour) it essentially has no nutritional value.  It has virtually no fiber, fat, protein or vitamins. Tapioca flour is a dead food with empty calories, in my opinion.

To get these substitute flours to bake well and simulate the texture of wheat bread artificial additives such as carboxymethylcellulose are often added. Try to pronounce that one :) …. They also add lots of sugar. 

Overall, gluten-free packaged products contain less fiber, few vitamins, more calories, more sugar, and more fat. This can actually add pounds to your waistline. You might want to seriously consider this if you are not a diagnosed celiac or have a medical need to avoid gluten. In fact, people who have celiacs disease typically gain weight (or normalize) when they start eating gluten-free because their bodies are now able to properly digest the food they are eating. This is a good news for them, but not necessarily for you if you are eating gluten-free to lose weight!

Good gluten-free grains 

There are better gluten-free grains, such as buckwheat and coconut flour, which far exceed the nutritional value of substitute flours used in most packaged gluten-free bread. However, it is difficult to find one that actually tastes good!

I recently found a new gluten-free bread called “Paleo Bread” by Julian’s Bakery, which is made with high fiber coconut flour, is low in sugar and fat and free of nasty additives.  However, I have not tried it yet.  I’ve tried buckwheat soba noodles and think they are pretty good.  Just make sure you buy 100% buckwheat noodles, and not varieties that are blended with gluten-containing wheat.

Do you have a recipe for gluten-free bread, or know of a store bought variety that tastes good? If so, please share in the comments.

Whatever your reasons are for eating gluten-free, try to source your ingredients from naturally nutritious foods with fiber, vitamins, and minerals and avoid packaged goods with empty calories. Otherwise, you could be doing more harm than good for your body. 

Is Gluten-Free Food Healthy?


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Posted in Deceptive Food in Grocery Stores