Last week, a coworker sent me a link to an article about the top health food scams of 2011. The article is popular, and mostly spot on, but dismisses gluten-free eating. I disagree that gluten-free eating is a scam, and am here today to offer my rebuttal.
First off, I admit that gluten free does not necessarily mean healthy. Plenty of junk food is GF (M&Ms, Snickers bars, diet soda, most potato and tortilla chips and popcorn) and more and more GF junk foods are popping up in grocery stores (cookies, cereal, donuts, cupcakes and cake among them).
But that’s the stuff that gets the fancy labels and press releases. The stuff that’s naturally gluten-free and very healthy (like meat, eggs, nuts, veggies and fruit) doesn’t need labels.
The article says “processed foods [that are] specially formulated to be gluten-free are often higher in calories and sugar, and lower in fiber and B vitamins …” I think a big part of that is that white flour in the US is enriched with b-vitamins, but even gluten-free grains offer a good amount of fiber.
So I’m not arguing that GF junk food isn’t junk, I do think much of it is healthier than gluten-laden junk.
Let’s do a little compare and contrast …
The ingredients from a loaf of gluten-free bread I bought last week:
Milk, white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, eggs, tapioca flour, millet flour, canola oil, brown sugar, yeast, xanthan gum, salt.
The ingredients from a popular brand of whole wheat bread:
Whole wheat flour, water, honey, sugar, wheat gluten, yeast, wheat bran, soybean oil, salt, monoglycerides, calcium propionate (preservative), datem, calcium sulfate, grain vinegar, citric acid, soy lecithin, calcium carbonate, whey, nonfat milk.
Obviously, I’d choose the GF bread over the other, but I’m guessing someone who’s trying to eat healthy would do the same. It’s not a short list, but mostly flour, and some liquid and eggs to bind it all. No preservatives, and nothing that sounds like it belongs in a chemistry lab. By the way – the gluten bread is the “healthiest” of this particular brand’s products!
I think the real issue, though, is the motivation behind going gluten-free. My experience (and I’m sure this is true for many readers of this blog, as well) was that I had to give up gluten after my Celiac diagnosis, and I became more conscious of what I was eating and tried to make healthier choices. But right now, gluten-free is trendy. People want to give up gluten in order to lose weight.
Going gluten-free can have that affect – but what makes it healthy is not the absence of gluten, but the level of attention it requires to be gluten-free. Like reading ingredient labels and carefully researching restaurants to make sure they have something appropriate and learning to turn down treats. But just swapping gluten-free bread for sandwiches and gluten-free cookies for dessert isn’t a sure thing.
I read an article some time ago that said because gluten is literally the “glue” in wheat, going gluten-free will lead to weight loss because fat will stop “sticking.” Now that’s a scam. Adopting a healthy, gluten-free diet is not.