According to a recent Mintel report, the gluten-free market is fueled by dieters who seek health benefits. However, respected health professionals will tell you that going gluten-free is unhealthy and not recommended.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and whole grain foods related to wheat such as bulgur, farro, kamut, spelt, triticale, and some oats. Gluten also is hidden in many foods and can be hard to detect.
There is no scientific data to show that gluten-free is healthier than gluten-containing equivalents or that it helps lose weight.
A survey of 2,000 people showed that more than 10 percent of respondents ate gluten-free foods for reasons other than celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Roughly two-thirds reported they ate gluten-free because they thought it was healthier while nearly a third did so to aid weight-loss efforts.
However, it is the health-halo effect of gluten-free products marketed alongside non-GMO, all-natural, and organic products that is driving consumer to believe that gluten-free is healthier or lighter. There is no scientific data to show that gluten-free is healthier than gluten-containing equivalents or that it helps lose weight.
Gluten-Free is Unhealthy
A gluten-free diet can lack essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber according to Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. Gluten-free products tend to be low in a range of nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber.
Not all gluten-free foods on the market are healthy. Some are high in saturated fat or cholesterol. Gluten-free foods can also be higher in calories than wheat-based products. Gluten-free breads, cakes, cereals, and cookies often have added sugar to improve taste and are filled with starches like potato, tapioca, and corn starch.
“When going gluten-free is done wrong, it’s the overpriced food version of diet soda; just as unhealthy as the original, if not more.” — Dr. Cole
Gluten is at the center of a lot of research surrounding chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. According to Dr. William Cole, who specializes in Functional Medicine and Clinical Nutrition, gluten-free foods may contain ingredients that are thought to be pro-inflammatory such as corn, rice, and oats. Gluten-free products that contain pseudo-grains like amaranth and quinoa may contribute to leaky gut syndrome. The soy that is commonly found in gluten-free products can distress the body.
Gluten-free products aren’t healthy for your budget either, costing twice as much as conventional products.
Nut Flours, the Better Choice as Flour Alternatives
Flours made from ground nuts are the healthy alternatives to wheat and wheat-related flours. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, coconut flour is gluten-free and hypoallergenic. With as much protein as wheat flour, coconut flour has none of the specific protein in wheat called gluten. Coconut flour works as part of a weight-loss program because it has high fiber. Foods with high fiber can help promote a feeling of fullness.
Flours made from ground nuts are the healthy alternatives to wheat and wheat-related flours.
A healthy diet includes a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory dose of healthy fats and proteins, organic produce and — if you want to go grain-free — flour alternatives such as almond flour, coconut flour, and hazelnut flour. Dr. Cole says, “When going gluten-free is done wrong, it’s the overpriced food version of diet soda; just as unhealthy as the original, if not more.”
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