Gluten free has become a huge trend in the past few years. More and more people are jumping on the gluten free bandwagon, but is it healthy?
This trend has resulted in so many new gluten free products. Now you can find gluten free anything from cupcakes to trail mix. All of these companies are looking to profit off of the growing trend of gluten free. Is it healthy? A naturally gluten free diet full of whole foods is. A diet high in gluten free bread, pasta and cupcakes is not. I think deep down a lot of us know that. It's just easier, it's convenient and it makes the transition to gluten free a smoother process when we replace our favorite foods.
It's pretty easy when on a gluten free diet to replace all your packaged foods with their gluten free counterparts. I remember going through the aisles and thinking, "awe I can't have pizza, pasta or cookies anymore, oh thank goodness there's a gluten free version!". After replacing all of my junk food with the gluten free versions I was noticing my health wasn't really improving like it was supposed to be on a gluten free diet. This is when I decided to start eating a diet filled with whole foods and my health drastically improved and this was after being on a gluten free diet for years. It's so much more then all the gluten you cut out. It's what you add in that really makes you as healthy as you can be.
A strict gluten free diet is essential for those of us with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. That also makes us susceptible to consuming many of these gluten free packaged foods. Eating a healthy diet and steering away from these products is essential for healing the damage done and decreasing inflammation in our bodies.
Here are some reason to stop eating gluten free packaged foods
1. Arsenic In Rice
Eating rice and foods high in rice flour (most gluten free packaged foods) can put you at risk for ingesting potentially toxic levels of arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is found in both organic and inorganic forms. It may be present in soil, water, and air. Due to the fact that rice is grown in flooded fields, it absorbs more arsenic from the environment than other crops. The roots of the rice plant take up and store arsenic under these conditions. There are two types inorganic and organic arsenic. Inorganic is what's in rice and is the much more harmful of the two. Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen and ingestion may cause an increased risk of certain cancers.
The concern isn't with those who eat rice or rice products infrequently because their exposure won't be high. It's those eating a diet high in rice like those on a gluten free diet that may have dangerous exposure. Because rice flour is a main ingredient in many gluten free products it's easy for those on a gluten free diet to be eating several servings of rice a day. For example someone could eat rice cereal for breakfast, gluten free bread for lunch and gluten free pasta for dinner.
Long-term studies about the health impact of chronic low doses of arsenic are just beginning. Given the lack of data on acceptable levels of arsenic in food and potential long-term effects, there are no widely agreed-upon recommendations for “safe” amounts or overall intake quantity. It isn't necessary to completely cut all rice products out of your diet but it is wise to limit them. An easy and healthy way to do this is limit you packaged gluten free foods, especially those high in rice flour.
Tips For Avoiding Arsenic and Rice
-- Limit your rice consumption
Organically-grown and conventional rice both contain arsenic. But arsenic concentrations in rice appear to vary based on the variety and the region where it is grown. White rice -- particularly basmati, jasmine and pre-cooked “instant” rice -- tends to have lower concentrations of arsenic than brown rice because arsenic accumulates in rice bran. Rice varieties grown in California or imported from Southeast Asia are often lower in arsenic than rice grown in other parts of the U.S.
"Consumer Reports suggested that adults eat no more than one to three servings of rice or rice-based foods per week, depending on the food type. It recommended that children eat a maximum of 1.25 servings of rice, rice pasta, rice breakfast cereal or rice pasta per week or one small serving of rice-based infant cereal per day." (from EWG.com)
-- Dont use rice milk as a substitute (Try coconut or nut milks)
-- Rinse your rice
Rinsing rice before cooking may reduce arsenic content to some extent. Some research indicates that the amount of arsenic in rice can be cut by as much as 40 percent if the rice is boiled in a large volume of water like pasta and excess water discarded.
2. Calorie dense nutrient poor
To make gluten free packaged food taste better manufacturers will add extra fat, sugar and salt. Many foods that contain gluten like bread, pasta and flour are enriched. What does this mean? It means that vitamins and minerals are added into the food like enriched flour with added B vitamins. Gluten free packaged foods aren't usually enriched meaning when you switch to the gluten free counterpart you could be losing vitamins you were getting from the enriched gluten version. So basically what this means is gluten free foods are usually high in calories and fat and lower in nutrients.
If you have celiac disease chances are you have nutrient deficiencies because of malabsorption from the damage to your small intestine. People recently diagnosed with celiac disease are commonly deficient in iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, folate, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B 12, and vitamin D. The vitamins that are missing in gluten free foods are usually the ones that are commonly low in people with celiac disease to begin with. So if you keep your diet low in these nutrients by eating a lot of gluten free packaged foods then you will continue to suffer from the effects of the deficiency.
Those on a gluten free diet know it isn't cheap! Gluten free bread where I live is around 7$ a loaf and that loaf seems to be getting smaller and smaller. A study conducted by University of Wollongong researchers in New South Wales recently found that people were paying up to 500 per cent more for some gluten-free items. Ouch!
To save money switching to a whole foods diet and avoid buying these high cost items that aren't doing your health any good and let's be honest many of them aren't to tasty either.
Here's a quick comparison of gluten free vs gluten products
Regular version: $0.08 per serving
Gluten-free: $0.28 per serving
Regular version: $0.31 per serving
Gluten-free: $0.57 per serving
Regular version: $1.38 per serving
Gluten-free: $2.50 per serving
Why Is Gluten-Free So Expensive?
Several different factors play into this answer. Food manufacturers will claim that they must charge more for gluten-free products to meet certification and labeling regulations and because many gluten-free foods are made in smaller batch sizes.
4. Small amounts of gluten
Did you know that gluten free foods technically aren't free of all gluten? Legally in Canada gluten free labelled foods must be under 20 parts per million. But Lots of people react to trace gluten in foods that don't seem to have gluten ingredients, or even those that are specifically labeled "gluten-free". Most products marketed as gluten-free still contain a tiny bit of gluten, some more than others. People with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can have very different reactions (or no reaction at all) to these trace amounts of gluten in our foods. If you find you're still getting sick or mystery glutenenings then eliminating your gluten free processed foods can help.
Easy ways to make the switch from gluten free packaged foods to whole foods:
1. Find healthy recipes you actually enjoy
You'll be way more likely to spend the time cooking if you enjoy the food. If you don't like a recipe simply move on and try something new!
2. Batch cook
Don't have time and that's why you find yourself reaching for the packaged foods? Learn some easy GF batch cooking recipes and make them on a day off. That way you'll have already prepared meals for the week that just need heating up.
3. Take a cooking class
Getting better in the kitchen will help you cook faster and tastier meals. You'll find yourself reaching for those GF products less and less. Look online for local classes in your area or online.
4. Learn your labels
Not all gluten free packaged foods are created equal. While the majority are unhealthy there are healthy options out there. Learn to read labels not just for finding gluten but for overall health.
All of this is not to say never eat another packaged gluten free product again. It's just to try and reduce the number of unhealthy gluten free processed foods you're consuming. Eating a variety of whole foods is so important for the long term health of your body and immune system.