Gluten-free diets are having a major moment right now. Thanks to various publications and certain instagram “celebs”, the world has been scared into thinking that wheat is the devil.
While this IS true for people who have celiac’s disease or a gluten allergy, this isn’t necessarily true for regular folks. I have IBS, and I follow the low-FODMAP diet. While I was doing experimental dieting and testing various foods to see what made me sick, it turned out that I have a gluten and lactose intolerance. In order to understand how hard this was for me to accept, you need to know that my top 5 favorite foods are:
- Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
- Literally any pasta but especially ravioli
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Garlic Bread and Mozzarella Sticks (tie)
Obviously, those are my favorite “guilty pleasure” foods and not foods I would eat regularly. I spent months without eating all my favorite foods and it was pretty terrible. I stayed away from gluten-free versions for awhile. My reasoning was, if I couldn’t have the real thing, I didn’t want to fake it.
So yes, I am on a gluten-free diet for my health. But if you ask someone why they are gluten-free and it’s NOT for a health reason, the answer you’ll usually get is “because it’s healthier”. Prod a little bit more, and you might find out that they switched to GF bread and GF pasta and GF chips and GF flour….etc.
Are gluten-free products really healthier?
Gluten-free doesn’t mean carb-free. It doesn’t mean calorie-free. It doesn’t mean fat-free. Gluten-free cookies are still just as bad as regular cookies. Gluten-free bread (which I now eat almost daily) still has carbs and fiber. Gluten-free products often have higher amounts of corn or potato starch than regular, non-gluten-free products. These starches are still high in carbohydrates!
Let’s look at some labels:
The label on the left is regular whole-grain bread. The label on the right is gluten-free bread. As you can see, there are still carbs and fat and sugar in gluten-free bread. Note that the serving size for GF bread is 2 slices, while it’s 1 slice for the regular bread. The gluten-free bread has about half the carbs than the regular bread, but it’s certainly not “carb-free”.
The label on the left is regular penne pasta. The label on the right is gluten-free penne pasta. Here, you can see more calories, more carbs, more sodium, and more cholesterol in the gluten-free pasta. If I got these two labels without knowing what they were, I would have guessed the one on the right was regular pasta!
The point I’m trying to make here is this: Simply trading normal products for the gluten-free version does not make you any healthier.
If you TRULY want to stop eating wheat (and you’re not doing it for a medical reason), you’re better off increasing your vegetable intake or having ancient grains such as quinoa or millet instead of wheat. Don’t reach for the gluten-free pasta or bread or chips.
Read your labels carefully. If a gluten-free product has over 400 calories, or 6-7 tsp of sugar per serving, put it back! Have a piece of fruit instead to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Incorporate whole, fresh foods and avoid the processed stuff. You could even try making your own bread to avoid the sugary, packaged bread!
If you think you may have an intolerance to gluten, I encourage you to talk to your doctor first, and get tested for various gastrointestinal diseases. I worked with an RD when I was going through it, which really helped a lot! Experimental dieting is tedious and difficult, but it can really help you figure out what’s making you sick (future blog coming on this topic!)
Would I recommend a gluten-free diet to a regular client? Probably not. What I would recommend is reaching for whole grains and not processed grains, foods high in fiber, and eating a balanced diet of whole, fresh foods.