Gluten-free is becoming the rage, and many people proudly announce they are “gluten-free” as their way of saying they are eating a healthy diet. But is gluten-free food necessarily Gluten-free Pizza Crusthealthier?
There are other people who have an allergic reaction to wheat — not necessarily to gluten. They don’t feel well when they eat wheat, so they need to avoid it.
However, for those who don’t have celiac disease or an allergy to wheat, there is no reason to avoid gluten. In itself, gluten is not unhealthy.
I’m allergic to mangos, so I am wise to avoid eating them! It doesn’t make mangos unhealthy, and if you’re not allergic to mangos, there’s no reason you shouldn’t eat them just because they’re not good for me.
That being said, avoiding gluten isn’t hard to do since almost all plant foods do NOT have gluten in them! Only wheat, rye, and barley contain gluten. People who are extremely sensitive to gluten sometimes also avoid oats, even though oats don’t contain gluten. The potential problem is that if oats are processed in the same facility as wheat, barley, or rye, some of the gluten from those grains might be left on the equipment and get into the oats, in very small amounts. For those who have serious celiac disease, it makes sense to purchase only oats that are certified to be gluten free because they are not processed in the same facility as wheat, barley, or rye.
So now comes the question: are baked products made without gluten healthier than baked products containing gluten?
My answer is a resounding NO! Not unless you have celiac disease or an allergy to wheat.
Here’s why. Most baked goods are made with lots of sugar, salt, oil or butter, and eggs, as well as flour. If you substitute a different combination of gluten-free flours, but still have a product loaded with sugar, salt, oil, and eggs, has it magically become healthy? Of course not! Junk food is junk food, whether it has gluten in it or not!
I was at the grocery store yesterday and “gluten-free” labels were everywhere. So I decided to see just what was in a package of gluten-free wraps. I wasn’t impressed. Instead ofJunk food is Junk Food! wheat flour, it was made with white rice flour. White rice is a refined grain with most of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals removed from it. Grinding it into a flour to make the base of a wrap doesn’t make a healthy food. It also contained oil, a couple of other highly refined starches, and preservatives.
If I were to choose a wrap made from whole grains, whether wheat, rice, oats, quinoa, corn, or any other grain, it would have been far more healthy — regardless of whether it contained gluten or not. And if I found one without added oil, even better.
So, many gluten-free products are simply highly processed foods that are low in nutrients and contain many unhealthy ingredients: refined starches, hydrogenated oils (otherwise known as trans fats) eggs, dairy, artificial flavorings and colorings and preservatives. Gluten-free products can be healthy as long as they are made with whole grains, and don’t contain oils, eggs, dairy, much sugar, and the long list of unpronounceables! But don’t assume they’re healthy because they’re gluten-free.
For those really needing to avoid gluten or wheat, why not just enjoy the amazing abundance of healthy vegetables, fruits, beans, and other whole grains rather than trying to mimic the taste and texture of bread and unhealthy baked products?
Whatever you buy, just be sure to read the label, and please don’t be conned into thinking that just because there is no wheat, barley or rye in a food, it suddenly becomes good for you. Let’s continue to use our own heads and not be railroaded by the latest craze into inadvertently replacing a healthy whole grain product with a much less healthy gluten-free product.
Delisa is a plant-based nutrition and cooking instructor in Alaska. She believes that we are designed to be slim and healthy.