Gluten-free Diet Healthy or Unhealthy?

Once again there were some tweets on Twitter yesterday that got my knickers all in a knot. I love that phrase, “knickers in a knot” and am thrilled that I was able to use it somewhere! Okay, back to my thought process -sorry. It wasn’t what the tweeps (people who were tweeting) were saying, it was information that they had heard & were repeating that had me all riled up. Apparently Dr. Peter Green, Director of The Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, was on a show on XM radio yesterday afternoon. Alision, of Sure Foods Living, tweeted the following: “Dr. Peter Green on XM radio today said gluten-free diet is expensive, inconvenient and not a healthy diet. I disagree with the last part!!!“. I have lots of thoughts on this last part regarding the healthy diet. I completely agree with the expensive part and somewhat agree with inconvenient part.

The part I do not agree with at all is the gluten-free diet not being a healthy diet. I tweeted in response to Alison’s tweet “@CeliacFamily @surefoodsliving I think any diet is what you make it. There R plenty of healthy whole grain #gf foods.” See, Dr. Green was saying that the gluten-free diet, when compared to a diet of enriched wheat products, was not healthy. I truly believe that while the gluten-free diet can be unhealthy if you use products that are not made with gluten-free whole grains, it is all dependent upon what foods you choose. Same goes for the SAD (standard American diet) – white bread, fast food, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, etc. However, if you choose healthy gluten-free foods, the gluten-free diet can be very healthy.

What are healthy gluten-free foods? Well, for starters, most fruits and vegetables in their natural form are gluten-free. The same goes for unseasoned meats & fish, milk, beans (including soy), lentils, eggs, nuts, seeds (except wheat, rye & barley) and some yogurt. There are quite a number of gluten-free grains that are extremely healthy for you – here is a list of some of them:

  • quinoa
  • millet
  • sorghum
  • buckwheat
  • teff
  • amaranth
  • rice (brown is better for you than white)
  • corn

Take quinoa for example. Quinoa is a complete protein – this means that it has all 9 amino acids. It also high in fiber. Quinoa can be used in place of rice or you can find it in flake or flour form. I have also used millet & buckwheat in place of rice or quinoa in many dishes for a change.

The standard gluten-free flour mix contains rice flour, potato starch & tapioca flour. Using only this mix is not the healthiest option. Baking with a mixture of gluten-free flours can maximze the nutritional benefits of whatever you are baking. Amy, of Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free, has some great posts on gluten-free flours that will help explain all you ever wanted to know about gluten-free flours.

Does this mean that you have to avoid foods with rice, potato starch & tapioca flours in them? No. My whole point is this – any diet is what you make it. You can choose to eat the more healthy foods and then splurge on the “treats” in moderation. I think (and I am just speculating here) that possibly Dr. Green was referring to replacement products. When I am using the term “replacement products”, I am referring to those products that are pre-made, such as bread, cookies, rolls, etc. Some of the gluten-free replacement products on the market are comprised of the white gluten-free flour mixes made up of rice, potato starch & tapioca flours. I have run across more & more replacement products lately that are using some of the more nutritious gluten-free flours, such as bean flours or sorghum. There are even gluten-free pastas on the market now that are made of brown rice, corn & quinoa to add some nutritional value to them.

When I first started on the gluten-free diet 4 years ago, I did go straight to the replacement products that were not as healthy as I adjusted to the diet. There is definitely a learning curve. Now that I have had the time to reserach & learn, I try to utilize some of these healthier gluten-free ingredients. I also try to stick to foods that are naturally gluten-free, eliminating the need for replacement products where I can.

Anyone else care to weigh in on this? I would love to hear some other opinions on this.

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