Read The Label: The Gluten-Free Reality

Posted On Saturday, 17 August 2013
Read The Label: The Gluten-Free Reality
Seeing the words "gluten-free" stamped onto a box of cookies, crackers, or Twinkies is not a green light that sends you on the road to healthier living. Now that the availability of gluten-free junk foods is legitimized by appearance in "common" large grocery chains, and product offerings expanded faster than waistlines, misinformation about these allergy-friendly foods is increasing.

Oh yes, large packaged food companies are listening to the siren scream of customers for more gluten-free foods choices. But like much in the past history of food companies' service of public wants, it's demand begetting inferior (from a healthful perspective) supply. As more shoppers load their grocery carts with gluten-free pretzels and pasta, grocery suppliers and stores expand their gluten-free aisles. According to a survey conducted by the NPD group in January 2013, approximately 30% of adults in the United States reported trying to reduce or exclude gluten from their food intake.

Despite the fact that a gluten-free diet is beneficial only to folks allergic or intolerant to gluten, many perceive gluten-free foods to be healthier and associated with weight loss. The real truth: gluten-free does not equal sugar free, healthful, skinny, or low fat. In fact, gluten-free foods often are less healthy and more expensive than their healthier, less sugared, whole wheat counterparts. You need to do what is best for your health and your budget—so here's the gluten-free 411.

Gluten is a protein found in the cereal grains wheat, barley, and rye. 3 million Americans—about 1 in every 133—have celiac disease and cannot properly digest the gluten protein. The only treatment that exists for those with Celiac Disease is a lifelong elimination of foods that contain gluten. The classic symptoms with Celiac Disease include abdominal cramping, distention and bloating of the stomach, chronic diarrhea or constipation, anemia, and unexplained weight loss with large appetite or weight gain. If you suspect you have Celiac Disease, consult your doctor who can order a blood test that will provide a definitive answer.

Gluten-free does not mean healthy or low calorie. Often times it is the reverse. If you compared a regular old wheat pretzel with a gluten-free pretzel, you would notice that gluten-free pretzels have higher levels of fat and sugar. Most gluten-free foods are made from refined carbohydrates, which have few nutrients, and worse, raise your blood sugar into unhealthful levels. However, a 2009 study found that alternating grain-based products increased the nutrient intake of the food. For the best health results: look for gluten-free foods without sugars, without syrups and without simple carb substitutes.

A gluten-free diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies.A study from 2012 analyzed the nutritional intake of a group of patients that were on a gluten-free diet for more than two years compared to a group that were newly-diagnosed. They found that diet inadequacies are common in those following a gluten-free diet. Specific nutrients of concern for some included thiamin, folate, Vitamin A, magnesium, calcium and iron options. Take half a prenatal multivitamin twice a day if you are a female between 12 and 50, or half a reg multi twice a day if anybody else and you go gluten free.

If done the right way, a gluten-free diet can be nutritious. The main goal of a nutrient-dense gluten-free diet is selecting foods that are whole grain. Whole grains are an important part of a well-balanced meal because they provide a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Some good whole grain food choices that include popcorn (air popped), brown rice, certified gluten-free oats, quinoa, and buckwheat. The key: selecting whole foods that contain beneficial nutrients and avoiding highly processed, packaged foods. So if you want to try it, do so; if it makes you feel healthier, stay with it - but in all cases avoid the five food felons - simple carbs, added sugars, added syrups, saturated and trans fats. Everything else works.

From Dr Mike Roizen and Brigid Titgemeier of YOU The Owner's Manual Radio Show 8 18 13

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Mike Roizen, MD

Questions? Just send 'em to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Michael Roizen, MD

Dr. Mike is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and co-founder of the well-known RealAge.com website, along with Dr. Mehmet Oz. He is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic and health expert on Oprah.

Dr. Mike hosts the popular YOU The Owner's Manual Radio Show here on RadioMD.com, and on radio stations nationwide.

You can also visit his latest partnership with Dr. Oz at YOUBeauty.com.

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