A Healthy Look at Gluten-Free Eating
While there is plenty of curiosity about going gluten-free, there is just as much misinformation. Wondering if a gluten-free diet is for you? Let’s find out together: Come with me as I take a healthy look at gluten-free eating, including exciting news about our improved Gluten-Free Store! I’ll be your guide, pointing out highlights and pitfalls along the path.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley and their derivatives. Some people, such as those with celiac disease, have an immune reaction to gluten that damages their small intestine and limits nutrient absorption. For more gluten-free facts, check out our FAQ section here.
Gluten-free eating has come a long way since 2004, when a National Institutes of Health statement found that celiac disease was considerably under-diagnosed. Though still under-diagnosed, public awareness has never been higher. The good news from the report: effective treatment exists; that is, lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. Since that time the gluten-free marketplace has exploded, registered dietitians have developed expertise in gluten-free diets, physicians have gotten better at diagnosis, and communities and educational resources have emerged.
Watch Out! (falling facts zone)
People ask if gluten-free diets are healthier, the silver bullet for weight loss, the secret to glowing skin, or the way to finally achieve world peace. I’m exaggerating, but not much. For people with celiac disease or gluten-sensitivities, the answer is yes, at least on the “healthier” question: eating gluten-free will make you feel better, and is important to minimizing nutrient deficiencies and damage to your digestive system, bone health, and more. For everyone else, the bottom line is that there is nothing inherently better about a gluten-free diet.
It’s important to remember that unnecessarily restricting the diet will limit food choices, making it that much more challenging to eat a healthful, well-balanced diet. Plus, cutting out gluten-containing foods could potentially lead to deficiencies in iron, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamine. That’s because fortified wheat-based products are a major source of these nutrients in the American diet.
All that being said, that doesn’t mean a healthy diet has to include gluten either. A healthy diet depends on the food choices one makes. Consider that natural, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, dairy, fish, poultry and meat are all gluten-free. Same goes for a host of unique whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, brown rice, wild rice, popcorn and more. It’s great to see that there are also better-for-you prepared meals and snacks on the market these days.
If going gluten-free means you put down the crackers, cookies, and cakes made with refined flour, and pick up the cauliflower, quinoa, and salmon, then yes, you’ll be eating a healthier diet (and most likely dropping a few pounds, too). By the same logic, a diet full of highly-processed gluten-free foods is just as likely to lead to weight gain and its complications as eating their gluten-containing counterparts. It’s all in the details – not just whether or not there’s gluten in your next bite.
From a medical perspective, only those who have been diagnosed with a gluten-related disorder should go gluten-free. From a lifestyle perspective, if going gluten-free is code for eating less processed foods, then I’m all for it (but you know the caveat – see above).
The Right Way (state-of-the-science recommendations)
The NIH consensus statement recommends six key strategies for managing celiac disease:
- C – Consult with a registered dietitian with expertise in gluten-related disorders
- E – Education about the disease
- L – Lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet
- I – Identification and treatment of nutritional deficiencies
- A – Access to an advocacy group
- C – Continual long-term follow-up
A Helping Hand (our gluten-free store and recipes)
If you are taking gluten out of your diet, we know it’s not always easy, and we’d like to help. That’s why I teamed up with our grocery team to launch a new gluten-free store, just for you. We are launching our new store during National Celiac Disease Awareness Month, and hope you enjoy our expanded selection and improved shopping experience.
We’ve added over 100 new items, for a store that houses over 500 popular items. We’ve improved the shopping experience by sprucing up the visual appeal of the store, and offering new ways to navigate such as “Shop by Meal”. I’ve also gone through all the products and organized my top picks by theme:
- Whole Grains
- Pantry Faves
- Sensible Treats
- Dairy Alternatives
In the interest of providing the most helpful selection of products for the gluten-free shopper, we took the extra step of filtering out many naturally gluten-free products like bottled water, yogurt, and apples, to name just a few. We feel that including those kinds of items would make browsing through the gluten-free store more cumbersome than it needs to be. (I’d like to put in my vote as an RD for your next stops after the Gluten-Free Store to be Vegetables, Fruits, and Seafood.)
Here’s what you can expect to find in our store. You will find foods that are certified gluten-free. You’ll also find dairy alternatives that are promoted as gluten-free. Even though these foods are just about always gluten-free, we decided to include them because we heard from enough gluten-free shoppers that they are also very interested in dairy alternatives. So if a dairy alternative makes a gluten-free claim, you’ll find it in our Gluten-Free Store. Some examples are Almond milk and Soy milk.
You’ll also see products labeled as gluten-free, whose manufacturer stands by that claim. Sometimes these products may follow good manufacturing practices to prevent cross-contamination, but may not necessarily be certified as gluten-free. These foods don’t get a free pass – they go through a review process. For these products, we are selective. Our evaluation includes ensuring a product is in a relevant category – for example, you won’t find a product like plain bottled water here just because the packaging says it’s gluten-free. But you will find plenty of carb-alternatives in categories that commonly contain gluten such as breads, pastas, and crackers. Still, customers are always encouraged to check the ingredients panel and the physical package before consuming.
We also have many gluten-free recipes in our One-Click Recipes section, where there is enough inspiration for weeks and weeks of meals.
Info Booth (where to learn more)
If you want to learn more about going gluten-free, there are trustworthy resources out there that can help:
- Find a registered dietitian with expertise in gluten intolerance using the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Find an RD tool
- American Celiac Disease Alliance
- Celiac Disease Foundation
- National Foundation for Celiac Awareness
- Gluten Intolerance Group of North America
- Celiac Sprue Association USA
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
- The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. NIH Consensus Development Conference on Celiac Disease: Conference Statement. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2004. Last accessed 5/10/12 from http://consensus.nih.gov/2004/2004CeliacDisease118html.htm