Is Gluten-Free Healthier?

The other day, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I saw a tub of ice cream advertised as gluten-free. Labeling a product as gluten-free has become an increasingly popular trend - and savvy marketers are hoping that consumers will believe that gluten-free products are healthier. They’re not.

In a tweet last April, Miley Cyrus even tweeted that “gluten is crapppp.” That’s crap, with four p’s.

As it turns out, gluten-free and healthy are two very different things. According to Mayo Clinic:

A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).

Gluten-free isn’t meant to be a weight loss strategy. Instead, a gluten-free diet is a treatment for celiac disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 133 people have this condition. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, it causes the little hair-like projects that move food through to the gut to breakdown - resulting in bleeding, malabsorption and other issues.

If you don’t have celiac disease, there’s nothing wrong with consuming gluten. In fact, it’s healthy to do so. Sorry, Miley. Moreover, gluten-free diets tend to lack fiber, are higher in simple carbohydrates (the so-called “bad” carbs) and often low in the complex carbohydrates that our bodies need. If you do go gluten-free for medical reasons, it’s important to work with nutritionists and doctors to get a well-rounded diet.

The bottom line: If something is labeled as gluten-free, it’s not offering any sort of health benefit - unless, of course, you have celiac disease. The alleged link between a product being gluten-free and its nutritional content, as exemplified by my ice cream experience, is non-existent.

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  1. Sorry, Davey, I think more research needs to be done on highly refined gluten additives being added to food for flavoring and thickening. Like highly refined sugars, they cause addictive responses, causing people to crave food, not just be hungry. Lose highly refined gluten and sugars, and you lose the addictions. This doesn’t disagree with what you basically say, just that it goes deeper than that.

  2. I’ve recently started eating gluten-free, because even though I don’t have Celiac Disease, foods made with gluten tend to upset my stomach. A lot of my friends had similar stomach problems and got allergy tests done and found that they were allergic to gluten, so even though I haven’t been diagnosed with anything, I’m trying it out and it seems to be helping so far.

    You’re absolutely right-if your body can process gluten, it’s not necessarily bad for you to eat it. In fact, I can’t believe anyone would give up those foods willingly! Gluten-free substitutes are harder to come by and more expensive. However, there are individuals with gluten sensitivities other than Celiac Disease who could benefit from there being a few more gluten-free options.

    (But most ice cream is gluten-free, anyway. You just have to make sure they didn’t add anything to it. So far I’ve come across one ice cream bar I couldn’t eat, because wheat flour was used in the coating.)

  3. I agree, Cara. One example has been the traditonal use of monosodium glutamate (MSG) a refined gluten derivative used for flavoring, that left many people feeling bloated and sleepy, craving the same food a short time later. These were feelings to which celiacs could relate but which were felt by a much wider populace, until the use of MSG was minimized. More work needs to be done and not rely on a trendy and half-hearted response to be gluten-free.

  4. christopher says:

    if you must avoid gluten foods-by all means-do it.but for majority of us-it isnt an issue.we need to avoid many foods-not good for us.processed and GMO-foods and the puzzled why so many products are now labeled-Gluten Free.thanks for the insight.later this summer i will go to Veggiefest-i may find more answers to this as well.

  5. Thank you, Davey!
    I too was one of those individuals that because of the vast amount of media and advertising about gluten free this and made with no gluten that, thought that it most be the next healthy thing to do. Now, I know it has nothing to do with health or getting healthy and at the very least it has to do with aliviating a medical condition some individuals have

  6. Miley didn’t intend her comment to be generalized for everyone, she just has a gluten allergy do that’s why she calls it. “crapppp”.

  7. I have been eating gluten and dairy free for 2 years now under the direction of a health care provider. I feel fantastic, I have struggle ever since I can remember with aliments associated with food alleriges. However, unless you have a gluten sensitivities, allergy, or autoimmune disorder known as celiac, there is no need to avoid gluten.

    Davey is right gluten doesn’t equal healthy. Many gluten free products found in the market contain sodium and fats then other regular foods. It is important for people who are GF to use and consume fresh products to help with the malabsorption and lack of nutrients in the body. Buying a GF pizza at the supermarket doesn’t make it healthier.
    In some cases people who have sensitivities to preservatives, which are found in many processed foods, find relief in a GF diet as many of the products are preservative free, and one tends to eat more naturally.

    As for a diet trend, this is pretty silly. Many people who begin a GF eating style actually put weight on. Their bodies begin to slowly heal and use the foods and nutrients properly. Yet as Davey said it is important for a GF person to balance there diet with proper carbs, and fiber sources. “you can still have whole grain” just grains that are safe to eat.

    For someone who are GF, having more foods labeled gluten free makes shopping easier. A person with food allergies must read labels very carefully. However as the FDA has not completed a correct standard for labeling GF products many companies have been falsely advertising the products as safe, which in fact they are not.

    Taken up a GF regiment is something to discuss with a health care provider, as it provides benefits to those with sensitives.

    Thanks for posting this Davey