Better For You? Gluten-Free Products

Published: November 15th, 2012 |
Author: Sally Kuzemchak

Here’s what you need to know about gluten.

First, celebrities start buzzing about going gluten-free, claiming it's helped them feel better and drop weight. Then, mainstream grocery stores start stocking gluten-free versions of all your favorites, hoping to capitalize on the buzz. And finally, you must decide if it's fact or fad. Are those pricier products really worth it?

Maybe. Gluten-free foods were originally made for people with celiac disease, who can't digest gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye). But now people are giving gluten-free a go in the hopes of alleviating digestive problems. Since eating gluten-free means eliminating regular bread, pasta, crackers, cereal—plus a whole bunch of processed foods that contain it in some form (such as deli meat and bottled salad dressing), it's no easy task. And packaged muffins, cookies, and other goodies aren't necessarily healthier just because they're "gluten-free." In fact, they often contain extra starch (and calories) to make them tasty. Here's my advice:

*If you think gluten may be a problem for you, ask your doctor for a blood test to find out (you'll also need an intestinal biopsy to be sure). Some people may also have what's called gluten sensitivity, which means their celiac tests are negative but they feel better avoiding gluten.

*If you decide to cut it out, go easy on packaged, gluten-free treats. Consider them splurges and focus on eating naturally gluten-free foods, like fruits, veggies, grains like quinoa and brown rice, nuts, and fish.

*If gluten isn't an issue for you, don't buy gluten-free products thinking they're automatically healthier. They're not.

--Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD

Keywords: celiac, gluten-free foods, grocery shopping