Are Gluten-Free Foods Right for Your?

By Debbie Jeffery, RDN LD
Gluten-Free is a current nutrition “hot” topic and many are using gluten-free products without first determining if it’s a good health choice for them. We know that gluten allergies and sensitivities are real. Celiac Disease is a medical condition that needs to be treated properly and the treatment involves avoiding gluten. Likewise when those that suffer from gluten sensitivities avoid gluten, symptoms disappear. However in growing numbers, those without either of these conditions are using gluten-free products in an effort to have a “healthier” diet.
There is nothing wrong with foods that are naturally gluten-free for example fruits, vegetables, beans, brown rice, nuts and quinoa. The problem is with food products on the grocery store shelves that are labeled “gluten-free”. If you decide to go gluten-free for reasons other than celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, below are factors to consider before assuming the product is a “healthier” alternative.
1. Fiber. Many gluten-free foods are made with rice or corn flour. In the process of making these flours, much of the fiber and essential nutrients are removed. Low fiber foods can have a higher glycemic effect (meaning they raise blood sugar levels more) than whole grains. If you’re trading a traditional whole grain cereal such as oat bran for a gluten-free cereal, you could be missing out on the benefits of a high fiber meal. A serving of oat bran will provide 4-6 grams of fiber, whereas a serving of gluten-free brown rice krisp provides less than 1 gram fiber.
2. Cost. Many gluten-free foods are more expensive. Gluten-free breads and cereals can be almost twice as expensive as traditional products without providing any benefit to those without an allergy or sensitivity to gluten.
3. Calories. A food product labeled “gluten-free” does not mean it is “calorie-free”. Gluten-free food products can contribute significant calories to the diet. Gluten-free bread can be almost twice as calorie dense as traditional wheat bread. Also, many food manufacturers are taking advantage of the popularity of gluten-free products and are adding the words “Gluten-Free” to the label of foods that have always been gluten-free. Those candy chews are still candy and sugar even though they are labeled “gluten-free”. Gluten-free does not make them any healthier.
Consider the above factors when deciding which foods are best for you!