Here’s the short answer to whether a gluten free diet is healthy. It depends.
Do you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity? Then a gluten free diet without wheat, barley and rye is necessary to prevent damage to the small intestine.
But what if you don’t need to be gluten free? Should you jump on the gluten free diet bandwagon?
Allow me to digress with a pertinent personal tale.
Gluten Free Diet for Stomach Problems?
When my oldest son was a junior in high school, he suddenly developed stomach problems that caused bloating and nausea.
After a week without any relief from these symptoms, my son agreed to see a gastrointestinal specialist.
The diagnosis was acid reflux, and the prescribed treatment was a proton pump inhibitor.
My son started taking his medication, but nothing changed. His stomach problems did not abate after several days.
That’s when I stepped in with a nutrition-based solution devoid of gluten.
Imagine telling a teen that foods made with wheat such as bread, pizza, and dessert are off limits for at least four weeks. As a family, we rarely ate those foods, but the mere thought of eliminating them caused a stir.
To learn more, I went grocery shopping.
Gluten Free Packaged Foods for a Gluten Free Diet
After two hours in the grocery store spent reading nutrition labels on gluten free food packages, I returned home empty-handed.
What I discovered was that most gluten free packaged foods are not healthy at all.
The front-of-package gluten free labels are merely misleading window dressing for the back-of-package nutrition label and ingredient line that tell the true story.
Here are the ingredient lines from some popular grocery store brands.
Gluten free bread
The front label says multigrain, and homestyle. Sounds healthy, right?
But here’s the ingredient line: water, modified tapioca starch, brown rice flour, cane sugar, rice starch, canola oil, white sorghum flour, brown teff flour, egg whites, molasses, modified potato starch, organic amaranth flour, organic sunflower seeds, oats, yeast, psyllium husk, organic brown flaxseed, sea salt, golden flaxseed, modified cellulose gum, organic millet, organic white distilled vinegar, guar gum, cultured brown rice
Gluten free multipurpose flour
Sounds like a wonderful substitution flour for all of your dessert recipes, right?
But here’s the ingredient line: cornstarch, white rice flour, brown rice flour, rBST-free milk powder, tapioca flour, potato starch, xanthan gum
Gluten free chocolate chip cookies
The marketing pitch says gluten free, vegan, peanut free, dairy free and nut free. Sounds like a healthy option if you have dairy and nut allergies, too. Right?
But here’s the ingredient line: gluten-free flour (sorghum, white rice, tapioca, potato), cane sugar (vegan), chocolate chips (cane sugar [vegan], cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, vanilla), palm oil (RSPO certified sustainable), agave syrup, non-GMO canola oil, raisin juice, molasses, vanilla, maple syrup, sea salt, sodium bicarbonate, xanthan gum, cream of tartar, vinegar
Gluten free pizza crust mix
This pizza mix is the ultimate in allergen friendly, but what about the ingredient line?
Made from: whole grain brown rice flour, potato starch, whole grain millet flour, whole grain sorghum flour, tapioca flour, potato flour, sugar, xanthan gum, salt, guar gum
Gluten free pasta
The marketing touts classic pasta taste and texture.
But it’s made from corn flour, rice flour, mono and diglycerides
Why Most Gluten Free Packaged Foods Are Not Healthy
Heavy reliance on rice flours
Rice flours are some of the least expensive flours, and for gluten free packaged food companies, it’s a good way to keep costs down.
My biggest concern with eating too much rice in general, including nondairy rice drinks, rice cereals, and rice-based gluten free foods, is arsenic.
Arsenic is found naturally in soil and groundwater, and rice plants have a natural affinity for this toxic element.
For those on a gluten free diet, the recommendation is to diversify your grains.
Too many simple “bad” carbs
Absent from most gluten free packaged foods are complex “whole grain” carbohydrates. Again, cost is the reason why.
Many gluten free foods contain tapioca flour, potato flour, corn flour, white rice flour, cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca starch — all of these simple carbs are devoid of fiber, vitamins, and nutrients. This leads to elevated spikes in blood sugar.
Addition of Gums
There’s a heavy reliance among gluten free packaged food manufacturers to use additives (cellulose gum, xanthan gum, guar gum) as a way to bind, thicken, and add volume to products.
Although these gums are safe for most people, they may cause problems for those who have GI issues or recurrent diarrhea.
Things to Consider
— it’s important to look at the ingredient label on all packaged foods that you purchase, especially gluten free products.
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity
— for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, your well-being depends on consuming a diet without gluten. However, a gluten free diet may be suboptimal if there’s a heavy reliance on gluten free packaged foods made from nutritionally deficient ingredients.
Gluten free diet without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity
— if avoiding gluten means that you regularly purchase gluten free packaged foods made with rice flours, simple carbs, and gums, then a gluten free diet is NOT healthier.
My son’s stomach problems cleared up after six weeks of avoiding foods made from wheat, barley, and rye. It turns out that he was gluten sensitive.
To support my son’s new diet, our whole family went gluten free.
Here to Help
If eating gluten free is important to you, I am intimately familiar with this topic.
Let’s work together to keep a steady diet of healthy gluten free foods in your repertoire without the added sugar and simple carbohydrates.
Reach out at Lady Moxy for a 15-phone consultation.