Good, Bad & Ugly of Living Gluten Free


The Good

Yes, a gluten-free lifestyle can be beneficial, but only for those who need it – Celiac patients, wheat (barley and rye) allergy patients and those with varying degrees of gluten sensitivities. A gluten-free lifestyle is imperative for those diagnosed with Celiac disease, an hereditary autoimmune disorder, because the damage done to the intestines can lead to life-threatening problems.

A gluten-free diet can lead to quick weight loss, but that’s usually due to the initial cutting out of processed wheat products (fast food, pasta, white bread, etc.). Most gluten-free processed foods are higher in fat and calories than their gluten-laden versions, because when the wheat’s removed, it’s replaced with sugars and various fats to improve taste and texture. Eventually those on a gluten-free diet find these higher fat and higher calorie “alternatives” just as addicting, and the weight piles on.

The Bad

The aforementioned weight gain from the sugar- and fat-ladened gluten-free versions of addictive breads and desserts is real.

How To Avoid? Exercise. Read nutrition labels carefully and note the serving size! And exercise.

Arsenic and mercury levels are HIGH in those living gluten free. Is this a bad thing? Well, science doesn’t really know yet, because there’s not been any long-term studies done on this relatively new diet. The high levels are due to white rice – yes, rice – a very cornerstone of a gluten-free diet. Rice flour is in EVERYTHING gluten free: pasta, flour blends, baking mixes. It’s used as a thickener and stabilizer – much like wheat is used.

How To Avoid? Limit white rice intake. Cut back on serving rice as a side dish, and read ingredient labels carefully. Planning meals a few days in advance helps.

Wheat and barley contain prebiotics – the plant-based fibers that nourish good bacteria in the gut. Onion, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, chicory root, jicama, dandelion, banana and agave are naturally gluten-free and contain prebiotics.

Wheat-based flours are enriched with vitamins and minerals that gluten-free flours are not. This leads to iron, folic acid and B vitamin deficiencies in those following a gluten-free diet. Fortunately, there are lots of foods naturally rich in these vitamins and minerals, and many that are fortified.

Iron: broccoli, kidney beans, quinoa, spinach, lentils, dried thyme, dried apricots, chicken breast, beef liver and fortified cereals

Folic Acid: dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits, beans, peas, lentils, avocado, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, beets, corn, celery, carrots, squash and fortified cereals

B Vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate-also called folic acid or folacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, biotin, pantothenic acid):

  • Thiamin – pork, ham, dark green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, enriched rice, green pea, lentils, almonds, pecans
  • Riboflavin – milk and milk products, asparagus, dark green leafy vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs, fortified cereals
  • Niacin – chicken, turkey, salmon, canned tuna packed in water, fortified cereals, legumes, peanuts
  • Folate/Folic Acid – leafy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables, grain and rice products fortified with folate
  • Vitamin B6 – poultry, seafood, bananas, leafy green vegetables, potatoes, fortified cereals
  • Vitamin B12 – fortified soy products and cereals, shellfish, fin fish, beef
  • Biotin – liver, egg yolks, salmon, pork, avocado, most fruits and vegetables, cheeses, grain foods.
  • Pantothenic Acid – yogurt, avocado, legumes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli

The Ugly

Besides the weight gain, lack of nutrients and elevated arsenic levels, there’s the cost of buying gluten-free foods. It’s expensive. Very expensive. And very restrictive.