Know Before You Go: Gluten-Free Diets

Woman shopping at the supermarket

You’ve either heard of it, tried it, or know someone who has: gluten-free diets. While it works wonders for those with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, people across the country are shunning gluten to reduce inflammation, increase energy, eat healthier, lose weight or avoid carbs. Hence, the number of newly introduced gluten-free products has skyrocketed from about 103 in 2003 to 832 in 2008.

However, I say don’t do it if you don’t have to! Gluten-free diets tend to be higher in fat, and low in fiber and nutrients. Studies have shown that gluten-free diets can be deficient in fiber, iron, folate, niacin (vitamin B3), thiamine (vitamin B1), calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc.

Going gluten-free can lead to weight gain as well – especially if you rely on highly-processed gluten-free foods, “which tend to be higher in fat, calories and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts,” says Rachel Begun, a food industry consultant who has celiac disease. Without gluten-containing ingredients, which have a sticky component, gluten-free products may contain extra oil, butter or eggs to compensate. This creates a very calorie-dense product that may contain unexpected calories. It may also compel you to eat more than usual. After eliminating fiber-rich, gluten-containing products, you’ll feel less satisfied and want to eat larger portions of food – which could lead to weight gain.

However, many people choose to go gluten free anyway – and for understandable reasons. Some graciously do it to support a loved one who has Celiac disease, while others are just plain curious. Here are some tips to make sure you’re staying healthy while going gluten-free.

● See your doctor: If you think you may have gluten sensitivity, you should see your doctor, who should know the right questions to ask to determine if you have it or not. Sometimes, he or she may suggest reducing one’s gluten intake, but not eliminate all sources of grains altogether. He or she can also work with you to create healthy meal plans that fit into a gluten-free diet.

● If your doctor advises a gluten-free diet, look for whole foods that are naturally gluten-free: Beans, seeds, nuts in their natural unprocessed form, fresh eggs, fresh meats, fish and poultry (not breaded, batter coated or marinated), fruits and vegetables, and most dairy products are great choices that don’t have you grabbing for highly-processed products.

● Choose low-fat gluten free products: But watch out for fat-free items, however; that may be worse!

● Don’t avoid your grains: Yes, there are gluten-free grains out there. Almost half of your nutrients should come from complex carbohydrates, like from grains or vegetables. However, instead of depending on wheat, you can have buckwheat, quinoa, millet and some oats.

● Take that multivitamin: Because gluten-free diets are low in a multitude of nutrients, take a multivitamin to make up for what you’re missing.

● Don’t forget the fiber: It helps people feel fuller longer, and since many gluten-free products are low in fiber, they may not feel very satisfying. Hence, try getting your fiber by eating more fruits and vegetables to compensate. Pears, lentils and black beans are my personal favorites. Check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s fiber shopping list.

● Snack wisely: Try eating popcorn or a banana instead of gluten-free fried chips.