As the gluten-free movement is becoming more and more popular, you may be wondering if you should go gluten free. I strongly believe that everyone can benefit from a gluten-free diet, but there are a few different approaches that people take when removing gluten from their diets. Some switch from gluten-containing products to gluten-free counterparts, while neglecting fresh foods. Some consume a combination of both natural and packaged gluten-free foods, and others consume solely natural gluten-free sources.
While gluten-free foods have certainly brought relief to a number of people, many notice little to no improvement in their symptoms after going gluten free. In this case, the underlying issue is not the gluten-free diet itself, but with gluten-free packaged foods.
What’s wrong with gluten-free foods?
The problem with gluten-free products is that they’re even more refined than their gluten-containing counterparts. I encourage all of my patients to avoid processed foods, because the original food loses a great deal of nutrients during the refining process. In order to produce gluten-free flours, manufacturers use other grains and starches such as flours made from rice, potatoes, corn, and tapioca. While these flours are naturally free of gluten, they’re still highly refined grains that can cause a spike in blood sugar higher than that of their whole grain counterparts.
In fact, gluten-free products are often very low in a number of vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin B12
If you notice your symptoms are not improving or actually getting worse after eliminating gluten, there could be a number of other factors at play.
1. Gluten-free products can contain trace amounts of gluten.
Gluten-free products can still contain some gluten. Even certified gluten-free foods can contain up to 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten per serving. This is a minimal amount of gluten if you only consume packaged foods occasionally. However, if you eat these processed gluten-free foods every day, you can potentially expose yourself to unwanted amounts of gluten. If you consume non-certified gluten-free foods, then you’re really just taking the company’s word for it and assuming that their products are free of gluten. It’s best to check the label to see if a gluten-free product is produced in the same facility as wheat, or other gluten-containing grains.
2. Gluten-free products are nutrient poor.
I strongly believe that gluten is the most inflammatory food that you can consume, but that doesn’t mean that everything in the gluten-free aisle is necessarily healthy. When grains are refined in the manufacturing process, many vitamins and minerals are lost along with it. Gluten-free products are considerably less nutritious than real, wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and a lean, organic source of animal protein.
3. Gluten-free products are high in sugar.
Whenever an ingredient is removed from a food, it’s often replaced with another ingredient for stability, shelf life, or texture purposes. For example, sugar-free foods contain sugar alcohols, and fat-free foods are often produced with man-made fats and extra sugar. Gluten-free foods are no exception to this rule, as they’re often laden with extra sugar. Excessive amounts of sugar can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain, and ultimately suppress your immune system. In addition, too much sugar can feed gut infections like Candida and SIBO, and lead to many more health concerns.
4. Gluten-free products contain preservatives.
Preservatives increase the shelf life of a product and ensure that it’s resistant to mold and bacteria. While it’s very convenient to have food that lasts a month, it adds unnecessary chemicals and compounds to our diets. The food we eat was at one point a living organism, be it a plant or animal, and it is very natural for our meat, vegetables, grains, and fruit to decay after being harvested. Anything that can survive on your shelf for more than a week without a life source is unnatural, and is not something you want to include in your diet.
5. Gluten-free products are made with refined oils.
Inexpensive oils are often added to many gluten-free products to moisten the product and improve the texture. Refined oils such as vegetable, canola, rapeseed, safflower, and sunflower oils are all high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory. A diet higher in omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids can lead to increased inflammation.
What can you do instead?
One of the most important things you can do is to get your energy from wholesome, organic, fresh foods like organic fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, healthy oils, grass-fed beef, atlantic wild-caught salmon, and pasture-raised eggs — all of which are free of gluten by nature.
If you’ve already removed gluten from your diet, your body may be sensitive to other inflammatory foods such as dairy, eggs, and soy. Try an elimination diet and remove one or all of these from your diet to see if your symptoms improve.