If you’ve given up gluten, you could be doing your diet – and your body – a disservice. Depending on which gluten free foods you swap for wheat, it’s very possible you’re missing out on fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
A gluten-free diet is a necessity for people with celiac disease, a lifelong genetically-based disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack the small intestine when gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye and barley – is eaten.
People who have what’s called non-celiac gluten sensitivity also benefit from avoiding gluten-containing foods. These individuals test negative for celiac disease but react poorly to gluten experiencing symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, brain fog and joint pain.
If you need to follow a gluten free diet, pay attention to nutrition. A steady fare of commercially-produced gluten free foods can shortchange your diet important nutrients and antioxidants.
In Canada and the U.S. there are no regulations to enrich gluten-free breads, muffins, cereals, pastas and flour mixes with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid iron, nutrients that must be added to refined wheat flour to restore what’s lost during processing.
Many gluten-free products also lack fibre, a concern since research suggests that fibre helps guard against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.
According to European research published in 2017, a gluten-free diet could also add inches to your waistline. The study compared 655 gluten-containing products (e.g., breakfast cereals, breads, pasta, cookies) to 654 gluten-free alternatives and found that, overall, gluten-free foods were more calorie-dense than their gluten-free counterparts.
Gluten-free breads were found to contain more fat than conventional breads and most gluten-free products had less protein.
Whether you avoid gluten because you have celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy – or you simply believe that gluten-free is right for you – the following strategies will help you maximize the nutritional value of your diet.
Include fibre-rich whole grains. Gluten-free whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, sorghum, millet and teff are high in fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Serve them cooked as a side dish or use them to make salads, pilafs and hot cereals.
Add other gluten-free carbs. Sweet potato and pulses (e.g., black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils), while not grains, deliver fibre-rich gluten-free carbohydrates along with protein, vitamins, minerals and plenty of disease-fighting nutrients.
Choose whole grain commercial products. Look for breads, cereals, pastas and flour mixes with one or more whole grains listed at the top of the ingredient list. Gluten-free products made with brown rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa and amaranth will have more fibre, protein and nutrients than those made with white rice flour.
Look for enriched. Compare brands of similar gluten-free foods to see if nutrients such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and iron are on the ingredient list.
Take a multivitamin. Women of childbearing age should take a daily multivitamin supplement to help ensure an adequate of folic acid, a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects of a baby’s brain and spinal cord. Refined wheat flour and refined wheat pasta must be fortified with folic acid, but this isn’t the case for gluten-free products.