Is a Gluten-Free Diet Bad for You?

Chile Verde

Lately, I’ve been seeing articles and headlines that suggest a gluten-free diet is unhealthy or even harmful. Digging into those articles reveals facts the link bait headlines don’t: essentially that a gluten-free diet is no more healthy or unhealthy than any other diet.

As we all know, being gluten free — and I do not believe one can be anything less than 100% gluten free — means avoiding all forms of wheat, barley, and rye. This means the whole grains, grains mixed into other products, flours, thickeners, whatever form these grains take. If you are gluten free, particularly for health reasons, none of these grains, in any form, should ever be ingested.

It is also a well-known fact that gluten-containing ingredients lurk in the most surprising items (potato chips! yogurt! bubble bath!). This means that having foods labeled “gluten free”, even though, to the casual observer it is a manufacturer jumping on a so-called fad, is necessary because (of course!) yogurt is gluten free, except when the manufacturer adds something like wheat starch.

An article I read tried to approach the gluten-free diet from an economic perspective. The author, who is gluten free, rightly pointed out that specialized gluten-free products, particularly baked goods, are expensive and low in nutritional value. This is true, and, if one were to eat only gluten-free versions of breads, cookies, bagels, etcetera, then, yes, a gluten-free diet is unhealthy. And expensive.

(The author also makes the point that increased consumption of rice flour can lead to increased ingestion of arsenic; I’m not up on the science of this, but will be exploring it for my own peace of mind.)

I’d posit this would be true of a non-gluten-free diet consisting of the same products. I’m not a fan of highly processed foods.

Yes, GF products, particularly those foods created as substitutes for “the real thing”, cost more. That’s economics. If you’ve ever done any sort of gluten-free baking, you know the research and development costs have to be high! We are well into the gluten-free product development cycle, and our collective flavor/texture/shelf life standards are higher.

And I don’t mind paying a higher cost for a quality product (see my review of Essential Baking Super Seeded Multi-Grain Rolls). Because I have so many other great options for gluten-free dining, that kind of investment is an exception for me. I rarely think to put a bread-type product on the table. In fact, I’d say my biggest investment in this realm is pasta, and I only serve pasta maybe every other week.

Whole grains (other than wheat, barley, or rye), vegetables, meats, dairy, eggs…these are the building blocks of a healthy diet. They’re also the core of a gluten-free diet. You aren’t going to lose weight by eating purely gluten free, unless you reduce overall calories coming in while increasing overall calories going out (engaging in what we traditionally call “exercise”). It’s that simple.

There is nothing inherently unhealthy or expensive about a gluten-free diet. It’s certainly not “bad” for you. Yes, it’s sometimes annoying, difficult, and even frustrating, but bad for you? No.

Tip of the Week

Highly processed foods, including many gluten-free baked goods, tend to be lower in fiber. Since we should be taking in 20 – 35 grams of fiber daily (depending on your calorie intake), look to whole grains, nuts, fruits, and veggies to increase fiber. Your overall health thanks you!

Menu of the Week

A while back, I converted my normal chile verde recipe to include chicken. This week, I’m all about bringing the pork back! I’m making traditional chile verde for an office party — since about half my co-workers shy away from very spicy foods, chile verde, with its tangy, subtle spices, is perfect for a crowd. I’ll serve it with a side of red chile paste for those who love lots of heat!

Because I’m also in a bit of a chilaquiles mood after having my cravings thwarted by non-gluten free chips at a restaurant, I’ll be offering the office crowd the option of serving the chile verde over chips or plain rice. At home, I’ll be spooning the delicious stew over gorditas, corn cakes. A side of beans will complete the dish.

  • Chile Verde with Spicy Chile Paste
  • Gorditas
  • Whole Black Beans
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