First thing first, what is gluten? Well, it is not just a thing found in pasta and bread. Gluten is a general name for the proteins (gliadin and glutenin) found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It acts as a binding agent in foods to help them maintain their shape and hold them together. Gluten can also be used as a thickener for soups, spreads, and sauces; a filler in processed meats; imitation seafood and vegetarian substitutes; and as flavouring in cereals, noodles, spices, teas and coffee. In Canada, products that are labelled gluten-free must meet certain guidelines.
You might be thinking a gluten-free diet means it is healthy and it is no-carb and since carbs are “bad” going on it will make you lose weight – but that’s not always the case. The thing is, not all carbs are bad and gluten-free is not a no-carb plan. Most importantly it should not be used as a weight-loss strategy. Often, people who need to follow a gluten-free diet are those who have Celiac disease or who have non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. Believe it or not but gluten-free foods used to only be available on prescription. Thanks to the recent gluten-free trend explosion in the past few years, there are now much more variety in gluten-free foods that can be found at any local grocery store. Most restaurants also have gluten free options and there are even gluten-free beers!
With the rise in popularity of gluten-free products, you might be wondering…should you go gluten-free?
Most people that have joined the gluten-free craze have not talked to a health professional about it nor do they fully understand what the term means – they just believe that gluten-free means “healthy.” Some products that have never contained gluten in the first place are labeled “naturally gluten-free.” Although some people do notice and experience health gains when following the diet, their positive results may not be so much because of the “gluten-free” aspect but rather the fact that they are not eating as much fast food, processed foods or refined grains. Instead they are probably cooking at home more often and eating more lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains (yup, carbs).
There are also cases where following the diet could do more harm than good. Some gluten-free food products are processed foods that lack vitamin, minerals and fiber. Sometimes they may even be higher in fat and lower in protein than “regular” foods. No matter what shiny label the processed food may have, it is probably not healthier than whole foods. Don’t go swapping gluten-free substitutes of processed foods (i.e. pizza, cookies, muffins, etc.) thinking it is healthier!
The bottom line is whether or not a gluten-free diet is considered “healthy” depends on the person. If you have Celiac disease or if you are gluten sensitive then avoiding gluten is the best thing for your body. However, if you are not gluten sensitive there is no reason to cut gluten out of your diet. Not only are gluten-free foods more expensive, they are also low in fiber and certain nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and magnesium.