The Gluten-Free Controversy: Does Gluten-Free Mean “Healthy”?
Have you noticed that increasingly more and more people are trying to avoid gluten?
Have you wondered if gluten-free products are healthy?
Have you given up gluten or been wondering if you should?
How do you know if going gluten-free is right for you?
Continue reading this blog post to discover the real truth behind gluten-free products and what you should look for when shopping gluten-free. And be sure to tune in next week to read more about celiac disease and why everyone is “suddenly” allergic to gluten.
The Real Truth Behind Gluten-Free Products
Yes, it is undeniable that more and more people are living a gluten-free life.
So many more, in fact, that people are starting to question wether it may be right for them.
But does gluten-free mean healthy?
This last weekend I had the fortune of attending the Gluten-Free Expo in Vancouver, BC - Canada’s largest expo of its kind.
It’s no secret that both my husband and I have been eating gluten-free for several years now. Why? You may ask. I had been perpetually sick and inflamed my whole life without really even noticing or understanding why. I was constantly sick and I accepted that was the way it was. End of story.
But now I eat clean. Since I stopped eating modern wheat, gluten, refined sugar, corn, and other hard-to-digest foods, my health drastically improved!
So, I got very excited when I saw an advertisement, seemingly tailored to me, that read:
“Canada’s largest gluten free event is coming to Vancouver this weekend, and those who haven’t been able to enjoy a good grilled cheese sandwich or crispy croissant can get together and commiserate – while eating some excellent gluten free food! The whole festival is 100% gluten free, so those with food intolerance, allergies, or celiac disease can leave their worries behind and enjoy all the free samples.”
I simply had to go!
What I initially saw when I entered the Expo (after waiting in line for over 30 minutes just to get in - which speaks volumes about the number of people interested in living gluten-free), was a panacea!
Every single one of the hundreds of vendors there were promoting their gluten-free products. There were samples every where! Cakes, cookies, chips, bread, baguettes, granola, flours, protein bars…
You get the idea.
At first, I was elated to have such a vast array of gluten-free products available to me - some for the first time since switching to a gluten-free diet. But upon further inspection, I wondered about about the real truth behind all these beautiful gluten-free products. Just because they are labelled gluten-free, does that mean they are healthy?
Upon further inspection, I realized that many of these products were still processed and refined or contained other ingredients I no longer ate.
Don’t get me wrong, some companies are doing it right by using only wholesome real food ingredients with no unhealthy additives or added sugars. This is what I was hoping I’d see.
Unfortunately, these were only the minority. Many products contained other common allergens like corn or soy. Some had refined sugar. Others incorporated additives, preservatives, and other unsavoury ingredients, making these gluten-free options just as unhealthy as conventionally prepared foods.
Buyer Beware! Gluten-Free Does Not Mean ‘Healthy’
One word of caution… if you are celiac, gluten intolerant, allergic to gluten, or simply choosing to eat a gluten-free diet, please be aware that large companies are starting to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon. To make a buck, some of these large companies have started producing gluten-free options so that now, more than ever, all your favourite foods are starting to creep back into the market with a gluten-free alternative. But does this make them healthy?
Though exciting as it may be to have these foods available to you once again, please be mindful that many of them are still processed and contain unhealthy ingredients, making them not such a “healthy” alternative.
Many are being produced in facilities that also package gluten-containing foods. So even though a product may claim to be “gluten-free”, celiacs must be even more careful with their choices than ever before. Having celiac disease is no joke. If they get “glutened”, their life can be on the line. (Stay tuned for next week’s blog post where I further discuss celiac disease.)
For this reason, it’s important not to trust just any company’s claims. Stick to brands you know and trust.
If you do have a diagnosis of celiac, you are well aware that the only way to avoid symptoms - from unpleasant at best to life-threatening at worst - is to follow a strict gluten-free diet for life. So support companies that never allow gluten into their facilities in the first place. This is the only way you’ll know that you’re eating is safe.
Years ago, this may have presented more of an issue, as there were very few gluten-free options available. Now, however, due to increased demand, you can walk into almost any grocery store and find options.
But are these options always best? Are all gluten-free products healthy?
Take gluten-free Cheerios, for example. The ingredient list includes: “whole grain oats, corn starch, sugar, salt, tripotassium phosphate, vitamin E.”
For those of you unaware, corn starch spikes blood sugar levels, sugar is highly refined and should be avoided for many reasons , and tripotassium phosphate? That’s TSP - you may recognize it as a cleaning agent. Though the FDA recognizes it as “generally safe”, it’s been known to be harmful to the environment and our health. I don’t know about you, but any chemical potent enough to be used as a cleaner, should not be in my food.
The Gluten-free Controversy
Some may argue that they welcome the new variety of foods available to them and embrace the growing popularity of the gluten-free movement. Yet others are not so sure.
First, many new gluten-free options are manufactured in facilities that also manufacture gluten-containing foods. The risk of cross-contamination is great. One can never be too sure about the safety protocols manufacturers put into place.
For this reason, it is best to continue to read food labels and understand the truth behind mass-produced gluten-free products. If a product is manufactured in a facility where cross-contamination may occur, you are best to stay away from it, especially is you are celiac. Continue to buy from manufacturers who never process gluten - buy from those you know and trust.
If you have a gluten intolerance or modern wheat sensitivity and consume a product that has come in contact with gluten, you will likely be fine. For you, this may not be such an issue.
Second, and what may become an issue, is the fact that many of the gluten-free options available today can be just as unhealthy - if not more so - than their gluten-filled counterparts!
As so many more consumers are demanding more gluten-free choices, big companies are stepping in to answer the call. They are starting to make gluten-free options in an effort to cash in on this ever-growing industry.
What’s the problem? Usually, if it’s good for big business, it’s not good for the consumer!
The anti-gluten-free movement
Just as there seems to be a growing number of people choosing to live without gluten, there also seems to a growing number of vocal opponents who love their flour and don’t want to be inconvenienced by those of us who don’t.
Though rare, some establishments do not offer gluten-free options for people like me, nor do they intend to. They seem to love their gluten and cater to other gluten-loving people. That’s all fine and good. They have that right and I don’t begrudge them of that.
But I’ve also been on the receiving end of anger, faced with someone vehemently opposed to those seeking alternate foods.
Why? I’m not sure - maybe they are tired of seeing “gluten-free” this and “gluten-free” that. Maybe they are sick of people asking for food modifications. Or maybe they don’t understand that some of us actually feel better when we don’t eat gluten-containing foods.
Regardless, I’m not bothered by what other people think. I know what works for me, and I’ll stick with it. I also know that mounting evidence suggests gluten-free eating patterns can improve symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and psoriasis.
If you are thinking about transitioning to a life without gluten or want to consume less refined flour, please do it the right way.
Make sure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs. This is where I come in. As a natural nutritionist, I can help you create a balanced diet, free of gluten and refined sugar, to help you eat better, feel better, and take charge of your own health.
Visit my services page on HappiHuman.com to find out how I can help or to try one of our new meal planning services. Then you’ll never have to worry about what to eat agin.
Thoughts? Please share your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!