As May continues on, so does Celiac Awareness Month! Today, I will bust a myth for you that following a gluten free diet is healthier for you. Well, unless you have Celiac Disease, in which case, we NEED to follow it and it IS healthier. But for the general public, it isn’t the case, despite what you might read on the internet. The term gluten free seems to have a health halo tied to it. What does that mean? It means that you, the consumer, automatically think that since the food is gluten free it must be healthy, when in fact it isn’t.
Why? For a number of reasons.
1) Gluten free foods are generally low in fibre. In North America, we enrich our wheat flours with folate, iron and other B vitamins. Traditional grains/starches (i.e. breads, pastas, crackers and cereals) are usually made with these enriched flours. Unlike, gluten free products, where they are not. Which means, someone who follows a gluten free way of eating, will need to find other ways to increase their fibre intake. This can be done by adding more fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, legumes/pulses and other gluten free whole grains into their diet.
2) Someone diagnosed with Celiac Disease tends to be at higher risk for having anemia/low iron levels. The ways in which we treat anemia/low iron levels is to start following a gluten free diet – so any damage in the intestine can be repaired and to add iron rich foods into the daily diet (a supplement may be required if anemia is diagnosed or levels are too low). When having foods rich in iron, pair with foods rich in vitamin C, as this will help the absorption. Also, try to avoid drinking tea/coffee with iron rich foods as they can interrupt the absorption.
3) Folate deficiency is common in people who follow a gluten free diet. Folate is an important B vitamin that is needed to make DNA/RNA (our building blocks) as well as red blood cells. It is so important that it is one of the major vitamins needed to have a healthy pregnancy. As I said above, folate is one of the vitamins that is added to wheat flours in North America, but not gluten free. This means that if you are a woman of child bearing age, you definitely need to take a supplement daily. If you are not in this category then just boosting your intake of folate rich foods can definitely help! Here are some food sources: green leafy vegetables, pulses/legumes, chicken/beef liver and some nuts/seeds.
Like my brownie here, it is gluten free but it isn’t the healthiest food for me…but once in a while, it’s ok ;)
I work as a Dietitian and definitely walk the talk. I love to cook and help people get back to being healthy again.