Why Gluten-Free Foods are Not All They’re Cracked Up to Be

In many circles, the word “gluten” has earned a notorious reputation—and many health advocates preach that eating foods with gluten is bad for your health.

Although there is some truth to this assertion, there has also been substantial exaggeration.  However, many people do think gluten is the culprit of a substantial number of health problems.  Gluten has been found to be one of the main causes behind ailments ranging from chronic inflammation to headaches to autoimmune disorders. And there is plenty of evidence to substantiate these claims. A quick Google search would produce hundreds of scientifically-backed articles on the side-effects of a diet rich in gluten and wheat. There are also a lot of testimonials from people who have experienced significant health benefits after eliminating gluten from their diet.

If you are considering adopting a gluten-free diet, there are a few things you need to know before you proceed.

Not All So-Called Gluten-Free Items Are Actually Gluten-Free

Several food items you can find at a grocery store offer a gluten-free alternative.  This is great because it means you won’t have to give up certain foods you really enjoy, such as bread and wheat products.  Even foods that never had gluten to begin with are marketing themselves as gluten-free, and this is a marketing ploy that’s meant to appeal to gluten-free consumers.  It’s advisable to view gluten-free food labels with a bit of skepticism. According to multiple studies that analyzed the gluten content of an assortment of foods on the market, a significant amount of gluten was still found in many of the so-called gluten-free products.

Specifically, many products contained 20 parts per million of gluten, which is the FDA’s guideline for a food item to be considered “gluten-free.” One Canada study showed that out of 600 tested flours, only ten percent of them met the criteria imposed by the FDA, which means 590 of the flours are not gluten-free by FDA standards.  Another U.S. study of 158 packaged foods showed that only five percent of the products satisfied the FDA’s threshold.

This is important because, if you truly want to be 100% gluten-free, following the guidelines of the celiac community may be your best bet.  That’s because among Celiac sufferers, even the smallest contamination of gluten in their food would send them to a hospital, which is why they don’t even consume so-called gluten-free pasta, breads, or other products. Furthermore, they won’t eat food prepared in a place that may have traces of gluten because the health consequences can be devastating for them. They know that foods like soy sauce, hot dogs, and even nutritional supplements contain gluten.  Therefore, if you are going to go gluten-free, you must really do your homework and avoid brands that usually are chock-full of hidden gluten.

Gluten-Free Alternatives Are Usually Just As Bad

If the reason you are choosing a gluten-free lifestyle is for its health benefits, it is counterproductive to eat grains or sweets that normally have gluten. That’s because the companies still have to make these foods edible. So, when you look at the ingredients for, say, gluten-free Oreos, you will find they have a much higher sugar and fat content than their gluten-filled counterparts. And sugar causes very similar adverse reactions in our body as gluten. Therefore, you’re essentially trading one evil for another.

Be vigilant in checking the ingredients on no-gluten products because, although they are marketed as healthy, more often than not, they are just as bad for your health then products containing gluten.

The Takeaway

Whether the gluten-free movement is here to stay or just a fad, always remember that food companies are likely to resort to devious—and often misleading—means to sell their products.  For instance, years ago when whole grains were lauded as being healthier than refined grains, practically every cereal and chip company suddenly plastered the phrase “made with whole grains” in their product packaging. Similarly, when the sugar industry was under fire for the use of high-fructose corn syrup, suddenly all soft drinks were being replaced with “cane sugar” alternatives, which are also not good for one’s health.  Sometimes, alternative ingredients may be slightly better than original ingredients, but the product as a whole might still be detrimental to your health. The same philosophy applies to gluten-free marketing.

When it comes to adopting a gluten-free diet, the operative phrase is:  Buyer Beware.  Steer clear of all wheats and sugars, and investigate Gluten-free claims that may be false or misleading.