We are already halfway through Celiac Disease Awareness Month! The past decade or so has seen quite an upswing in awareness of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, and certainly more and more people are choosing to eat a GF diet for reasons other than a diagnosis of CD – perhaps they feel better when they cut out gluten, maybe they heard that going GF can help with weight loss, or they are doing it to support a family member who is GF. Despite the popularity of the GF diet – or maybe because of the popularity – certain misconceptions about gluten are pretty common. Here are 4 things you may have heard about gluten that aren’t necessarily true:
- If it’s gluten-free, it’s healthy. According to a 2012 consumer survey by Packaged Facts, 18% of adults are buying or consuming packaged foods that are labeled GF and the number one reason given for doing so is the belief that GF products are generally healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts. But many GF packaged foods contain just as much sugar, refined flour (such as rice flour), unhealthy fats, and other fillers. Check the ingredient lists on GF packaged foods before you buy. Focus on foods that are naturally GF, such as fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and GF whole grains such as quinoa. Zing bars are a great example of a healthy on-the-go GF option with a nice balance of protein, healthy fat, and fiber.
- Cutting out gluten will automatically help you lose weight. As with any diet, weight loss depends mainly on the amount of calories consumed. Consuming too much of the foods that naturally contain gluten can lead to weight gain, but this is also true of GF foods – eating large portions of wheat pasta will have the same effect on weight gain as eating large portions of GF brown rice pasta. In general – GF or not – eating a diet with a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and fiber that is low in (or free from) sugar and refined carbs is your best bet for weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Rice and potatoes contain gluten. This really comes down to the question, “What exactly is gluten?” Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro), barley, rye, and triticale. Rice and potatoes are naturally gluten-free foods.
- My diet is 100% gluten-free. Many people think they are eating a completely GF diet because they’ve cut out wheat bread, pasta, and crackers. But often they haven’t thought of additional less-obvious sources of gluten such as soy sauce and other condiments, additives and hidden ingredients in packaged foods and in certain prescription medications, and a big issue – cross-contamination. Cross-contamination happens in restaurants and food manufacturers without dedicated GF facilities and procedures, and is also common in home kitchens. Oats do not naturally contain gluten, but are often contaminated with gluten during processing, so buy certified GF oats. This can also be the case with millet and buckwheat groats.
Making sense of the sometimes conflicting information about gluten can be overwhelming, and most definitely can make the transition to a GF lifestyle even more of a challenge. A nutritionist or healthcare practitioner who is knowledgeable about the GF diet can help guide you through the transition and help to ensure you’re getting optimal nutrients through a balanced GF diet. Here are a few helpful resources from the web:
- National Foundation for Celiac Awareness – getting started and information about certified GF product testing
- Gluten Intolerance Group Educational Bulletins
- Nourishing Meals blog – Delicious allergen-free, whole food recipes
Have you read or heard something about gluten that is conflicting or confusing? We want to know!
Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.