The market for gluten-free foods has never been this demanding, thanks to the celiac awareness campaigns. To bring the point home, in 2010 Americans spent over $2.6 billion on gluten-free foods. Four years later in 2014, sales had risen by 16.4 percent reaching $23.3 billion. Unfortunately, to cover the high demands for gluten-free products, manufacturers and vendors are stamping Gluten-free labels on their products, whether they are healthy or not. Gluten is the plant protein commonly found in barley, wheat, triticale, and rye. People with irritable bowel syndrome, type 1 diabetes, and the neurological disorder gluten ataxia are advised to consume gluten-free products. How healthy a gluten-free diet depends largely on the gluten-free food alternatives that you choose to consume.
How Gluten Causes Health Issues
People with celiac disease can’t tolerate gluten, not even in the smallest amounts. If consumed, gluten triggers an immune reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine. As a result, nutrients from the food you eat are not absorbed properly, you are at high risk of certain health conditions such as infertility, seizures, liver damage, and osteoporosis.
Making Healthier Gluten-Free Food Choices
It’s always healthy to go for foods that are naturally gluten-free such as vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and whole gluten-free grains. It’s, therefore, not ideal to replace gluten-containing foods with sugars, red meats, fats, and starchy vegetables as this will lead to unwanted calories, an increase in cholesterol level, and sodium.
Experts also advise against eating commercially produced gluten-free products such as snacks which are obviously high in carbohydrates, salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Originally, a gluten-free diet was the only option for people with celiac disease. But now even people who don’t have this condition are opting for gluten-free foods with the belief that these foods are highly nutritious. Dieticians and nutritionists are warning that eating junk food or desserts are not healthier than gluten-containing products and you’ll be negatively affecting your health.
Unfortunately, not all gluten-free products are healthy and there’s isn’t much scientific evidence showing that gluten-free foods are helpful to anyone without celiac disease.
Since the gluten-free fad has been trending for a while now, it helps to know the type of foods you need to eat and those that you should avoid.
Foods You Can Eat
- Fresh lean meats.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Dairy products.
- Gluten-free whole grains such as millet, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, rice, and amaranth.
Fish People with celiac disease need to avoid foods with the slightest traces of gluten such as:
- Bread, cakes, and pies.
- Processed meats.
- French fries.
Health Risks of Gluten-Free Foods
Earlier, we mentioned that people with celiac disease have no option but to eat a lifelong restricted diet that doesn’t have gluten, even in small traces. However, what happens when people without celiac disease change their diets to gluten-free foods?
Low Fiber Intake
A major downside of gluten-free products is that they are low in fiber. If you don’t eat other food alternatives to fill the void left by lack of fiber, then you’ll be putting your health at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the long run. Whole grains have their part in our nutrition and lacking enough of these grains can be detrimental to your health.
The belief that avoiding gluten may lead to weight loss is not backed by science. On the contrary, dieticians are warning that gluten-free foods such as potatoes, tapioca, and rice have a high glycemic index which means that you’ll be consuming more calories than if eating foods made with wheat. This means that there is a risk of gaining weight because the processed gluten-free products have high sugar, fat and calories and low fiber than the gluten-containing foods.
Gluten-free products lack essential nutrients like iron, fiber, calcium, folate, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin. Long term intake of such foods will lead to nutritional deficiencies, especially if you don’t plan your meals to get alternative sources of these essential nutrients. These nutrients are commonly in whole grains and some cereals that are fortified with vitamins. Pregnant women or those planning to get pregnant need plenty of vitamin B9 commonly referred to as folic acid, making gluten-free foods a health risk for the developing baby.
The Gluten-Free Diet
Many products have some amounts of gluten ranging from soy sauce, the ‘natural flavorings’ found in some foods, vitamin and mineral supplements, certain medications and even some toothpaste. This makes it very challenging to follow a gluten-free diet. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. People who have gone gluten-free have reported some positive outcomes and although this is not scientifically proven, it shows that gluten-free diet can either affect you positively or negatively, again depending on the foods you replace in your diet. You don’t really need wheat or its by-products to live a healthy life.
There are many other alternatives that can be beneficial for your digestive system and overall health. One major hurdle with gluten-free foods is in the labeling. Researchers from the Global Health in Sydney discovered that “the carbohydrate-rich substitutes used in gluten-free foods are low in vitamins and minerals.” So, if you don’t have celiac disease and you want to cut gluten from your diet, it’s important to understand what you stand to gain from the dietary changes. Remember, minimally processed foods are always the best when it comes to good health and nutrition.
All images by Pixabay