I will fully admit right here and now that my family has absolutely benefited from the gluten-free food trend. The fact that more people are eating gluten free has allowed for my celiac daughter to eat crackers that have flavor and consistency, try a toaster pastry (which I never thought I would see happen), and buy a fully, shelf stable gluten free lunch/snack (Go Picnic’s gluten free options).
Recently the news reports on the gluten-free “trend” either questioning it’s healthfulness or just calling it unhealthy just keep coming:
- The Gluten-Free Craze: Is it Healthy? — Published online June 22, 2014 by the Wall Street Journal
- “Gluten Free”, Other Buzzwords are Deceiving Health-Conscious Consumers, published June 16, 2014 by the Houston Chronicle
- Registered Dietitian Questions Whether Gluten Free is the Way to Be?, published June 12 by InsideOttowaValley.com
- You Shouldn’t Buy Into the Gluten-Free Diet Hype, published May 22, 2014 by AlbanyHerald.com
These are a handful of examples I have found in just the last month. From a news perspective there are a ton of articles with this tone. But there are also a lot of other articles that talk about going gluten free, how to do it and are generally supportive. I understand the media likes to discuss and debunk hot topics.
So are there gluten free foods that have less of a nutritional value than their gluten-full counterparts? Yes. There are some products that are just indulgences like cupcakes and cookies, but some other products like breads and many cereals are not nutritionally fortified like their gluten-full counterparts. This is another point being raised in the aforementioned articles. Many of us, in our gluten-full days probably didn’t think twice about how our breads and cereals were fortified with nutrients. But now that we are gluten free, we probably should.
Making your gluten free diet healthy
Consider that with a little simple creativity you can fill in nutritional gaps and have a healthier diet. Here are some easy ways to do it.
- Shop the perimeter of the store. Most often this is where the real, one-ingredient whole foods are. Produce, meat, dairy are all easy foods to create a healthy gluten-free meal.
- Need to have some quick grab and go items? In my house, the squeezable apple sauce is a go to, as is string cheese, individual packages of cottage cheese, fruit, veggies and Sabra hummus.
- Hot cereal lover? If you are in need of iron, Cream of Rice is fortified with iron, but isn’t high in nutrition elsewhere. Seek out gluten-free oats for more protein and fiber. Bob’s Red Mill’s gluten-free oats has 7 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per serving.
- Make sure you are getting your B vitamins! Bread made from enriched gluten-full grains have B vitamins and folic acid added to it. So when those kinds of breads are eliminated from the diet, consider some alternatives to get them back in! Leafy greens are a GREAT way to go. Click here on this LiveStrong article to find out more (note: the LiveStrong article is not specifically catered to gluten free, but most of the options are gluten free)
- Add ground flax seed to your home-baked goods or cereal. It is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Try produce that is in season. It will be cheaper.
- Don’t feel bad about buying frozen vegetables or fruit. Amie Valpone from The Healthy Apple told me in an interview last January, “Some people say frozen things are unhealthy, but you know frozen is as good as fresh because they are flash frozen at peak.”
With these tips I think you can easily beef up your nutrition factor in your diet and have it not be complicated.
As for junk food, I think it is okay to indulge in some on occasion. I like chocolate sandwich cookies on ice cream! And my daughter loves Julie’s gluten free ice cream sandwiches! We don’t buy them all the time, but they are fun to bring to a party or have for a treat in the summer. And yes, someone who is eating gluten free to lose weight should know, that just by eating gluten free ice cream sandwiches, you’re not going to slim down.
Is the gluten free diet unhealthy? I think it can be as healthy as you want it to be. And isn’t that the way it is with any dietary lifestyle?
**I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. If you have questions about going gluten-free you should consult either one of those experts first.
***If you are considering going gluten free, please get tested for celiac disease first. It is a simple blood test. You will want to know if you have celiac which is a genetic, autoimmune disorder, which if left untreated (or mistreated — where you go on and off the GF diet), you could end up with other VERY significant health problems, like osteoporosis, infertility and cancer. The only treatment at this time for celiac is a strict gluten free diet. Once you are gluten free, testing for celiac is pointless because when your body heals, you won’t test positive for celiac.