Gluten-Free is Not a Healthy Choice for Dieters

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
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    Rise of gluten-free popularity

    The gluten-free market is being propelled by dieters for its perceived health benefits, according to a recent Mintel report. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and whole grain foods related to wheat, including bulgur, farro, kamut, spelt, triticale, and some oats. Gluten also is hidden in many foods and therefore hard to detect.


    The survey of 2,000 people showed that more than 10 percent of respondents ate gluten-free foods for reasons other than celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Roughly two-thirds reported they ate gluten-free because they thought it was healthier while nearly a third did so to aid weight-loss efforts.

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    However, it is the health-halo effect of gluten-free products marketed alongside non-GMO, all-natural, and organic products that is driving consumer perception that gluten-free is healthier or lighter. There is no scientific data that show gluten-free is healthier than their gluten-containing equivalents or helps consumers to lose weight.


    Packaged gluten-free foods are unhealthy

    A gluten-free diet can lack essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber according to Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. Gluten-free products tend to be low in a wide range of important nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber.


    What is more, not all gluten-free foods being marketed are healthy. Some are high in saturated fat or cholesterol. As well, gluten-free foods can be higher in calories than wheat-based products. Gluten-free breads, cakes, cereals, and cookies often contain added sugar to improve taste and are filled with starches like potato, tapioca, and corn starch.


    Gluten is the center of a lot of research surrounding chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. According to Dr. William Cole, who specializes in Functional Medicine and Clinical Nutrition, gluten-free foods may, however, contain ingredients that are thought to be pro-inflammatory such as corn, rice, and oats. Gluten-free products that contain pseudo-grains like amaranth and quinoa may contribute to leaky gut syndrome. Soy commonly found in gluten-free products can distress the body.


    Gluten-free products aren’t healthy for your budget, either, costing twice as much as conventional products.


    Nut flours, the better choices for flour alternatives

    Flours made from ground nuts are the healthy alternatives to wheat and wheat-related flours. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, coconut flour is gluten-free and hypoallergenic. With as much protein as wheat flour, coconut flour has none of the specific protein in wheat called gluten. Coconut flour works well as part of a weight-loss program because it has high fiber, and foods with high fiber can help promote a feeling of fullness.


    The bottom line: A healthy diet includes a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory dose of healthy fats and proteins, organic produce and -- if you want to go grain-free -- flour alternatives such as almond flour, coconut flour, and hazelnut flour. Dr. Cole says, “When going gluten-free is done wrong, it's the overpriced food version of diet soda; just as unhealthy as the original, if not more.”


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    Mintel Report Gluten-free Foods – US- September 2013

    Health/Weight Conscious Consumers are Driving the Gluten-free Market, not Celiacs

    The Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University


Published On: October 18, 2013