Make No Mistake

Below is a reprint from a question Melissa answered in Better Nutrition magazine.

Q: What is the most common mistake people make on the gluten-free diet?

A: For people who are just beginning the gluten-free diet as well as those who have been on the diet a long time, the biggest mistake they make is over-relying on manufactured processed foods instead of eating naturally gluten-free whole foods such as vegetables and fruits.

Highly processed “gluten-free” food products set people up for health problems in three different ways. The first way is, ironically, by those products sometimes being contaminated with unwanted gluten. Even though gluten-free grains and and flours are naturally gluten free, these foods are often processed in the same facilities – and with the same equipment – as the gluten grains wheat, rye, and barley, where they can inadvertently pick up gluten.

A study published in June 2010 by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that nine out of 22 inherently gluten-free products, such as corn and millet, contained mean levels of gluten from 8.5 to 2,925 ppm. Also, 32 percent of naturally gluten-free grains and flours tested contained gluten in amounts greater than 20 ppm. Given those findings, gluten contamination of inherently gluten-free grains and and flours is a legitimate concern, the ADA Journal concluded.

The second way gluten-free processed foods, like all processed foods, can lead to health problems is by prompting sharp increases in blood sugar and the fat-storage hormone insulin. Gluten-free foods made with ingredients such as rice flour, cornstarch, potato starch, and tapioca starch are high in carbohydrates and high on the glycemic index, meaning they are converted to sugar quickly and spike blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels in turn set off a cascade of metabolic events that lead to uneven energy levels, increased hunger, addictive eating, unwanted weight gain, and a worsening of heart disease risk factors and prediabetic or diabetic blood sugar levels.

The third way that gluten-free convenience foods may contribute to health troubles is by being a source of untested genetically modified ingredients. Animal research has linked genetically modified (GM) foods to serious health risks, including reproductive problems, gastrointestinal problems, and immune system problems, and a 2013 report suggests that GM foods may trigger or exacerbate gluten-related disorders, including celiac disease. Many gluten-free foods contain common genetically modified ingredients such as: Corn (i.e., cornstarch, cornmeal, corn syrup, corn oil, fructose, and xanthan gum), Sugar from sugar beets (found in “sugar” listed in the list of ingredients, but not “cane sugar”), Canola oil, and Soy (i.e., soy flour, soy milk, tofu, soy oil, and soy lecithin).

Protect your health by shopping defensively against these potential problems. First opt for vegetables as much as possible in your diet. When selecting other foods, try these tips:

  • Seek out gluten-free foods by companies that protect against gluten contamination. Buy gluten-free grain and flour products that are regularly tested for gluten content, produced in dedicated gluten-free facilities, have gluten contamination counter measures in place, or are gluten-free certified by celiac organizations, such as the Celiac Sprue Association, Quality Assurance International/NSF International, and the Gluten Intolerance Group (which is behind the Gluten-Free Certification Organization or GFCO). These organizations have programs that certify foods that test below 5 or 10 ppm – stricter standards than the 20 ppm that has been decided upon and will be required by this August by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Make your own baked goods with almond flour or coconut flour. Carbohydrate sensitivity is rampant among my clients, so I regularly recommend baking with almond flour (i.e., Dowd & Rogers and Honeyville) and/or coconut flour (i.e., Coconut Secret). Nut flours and coconut flour are naturally gluten free, rich in nutrients, low in carbohydrates, and much lower-glycemic options than traditional flours, such as rice flour, potato starch, or cornmeal.
  • Be GMO-savvy when purchasing GF convenience foods. Avoid gluten-free products that contain corn, sugar, canola oil, and soy, or look for those that are labeled USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.
Copyright © 2014 Melissa Diane Smith

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