Dietary trends are common, particularly in countries like the United States and Canada, where great importance is placed on personal appearance and physical well-being. Many people jump on board with dietary fads, thinking they are doing something good for their health. In the case of gluten-free diets, many people misunderstand the reasons, benefits and risks of abstaining from gluten as part of daily living. Like any diet, if a lifestyle free of gluten is not properly approached and managed, it can actually be unhealthy.
The key to being well is in knowing more about gluten-free diets before starting one. Above all else, it is important to realize that living gluten-free is likely best reserved for those with celiac disease or other diagnosed gluten intolerance.
Gluten-Free Food Nutritional Value
Many people believe that gluten-free foods are of a higher nutritional value than other foods. This is not really true. In fact, many doctors warn that people starting gluten-free diets can quickly become nutritionally deficient, if they do not watch nutrient intake to ensure healthy minimums are maintained.
If there is a struggle to ensure nutritional balance on a daily basis, adding dietary supplements to each day’s routine is likely a good choice. Consumer Reports reviewed 81 gluten-free products in 12 categories of cuisine. Results indicated that gluten-free foods range between nutritionally sound to very deficient in nutritional value. Most of these foods are not enriched or fortified, unlike their gluten-containing counterparts. So, they lack folic acid, iron and other nutrients that fortified wheat products contain.
Another surprising aspect of gluten-free products is that many add sugar, sodium and fat to make up for the strong textures and flavors lost due to omission of wheat, rye or barley. Some basic gluten-free foods, like bagels and muffins, can have up to 4.5 times as much fat or sugars than wheat-containing versions.
Positive Effects of Gluten on the Body
Contrary to what many people think, gluten has been indicated to beneficially affect triglycerides and blood pressure. Gluten also helps support healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. While some people cannot tolerate gluten, for the rest of the world’s population gluten serves very beneficial purposes in the daily diet. When gluten can be tolerated by the body, it can even help keep the heart and digestive tract healthier than living without it.
Maintaining Balance in Gluten-Free Diets
When a person is gluten intolerant and must ensure they live gluten-free, there are healthy ways to structure a diet and ensure nutritional balance. Those include:
- Eat plenty of grains: Eating grains is important, so wheat grains should be replaced with amaranth, millet, quinoa, teff and corn. Rice is healthy as a substitute in moderation.
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery market: Natural foods are the best choice when going gluten-free. In grocery stores, the outside edges of the store are where these foods are located. They include fruit, vegetables, fresh and lean meats, poultry, fish, some dairy, legumes, nuts and some of the grains.
- Learn to read between the lines of labels: Eat as few packaged foods as possible. When you do buy these foods, go for ones not containing refined rice or potato flours. Instead, choose the ones with non-rice, no-gluten whole grains. Closely watch sugars, fat and sodium, as many gluten-free options are higher in these bad components.