Gluten Free and Healthy?

Take a stroll down any supermarket and you will find dedicated shelf space for Gluten Free products in response to the increased number of individuals choosing a Gluten Free lifestyle. The reason one follows a gluten free lifestyle vary from Celiac Disease, Non- Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, Wheat Intolerance, Wheat allergy, or jumping on the Gluten Free Craze. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, common symptoms of Celiac Disease include: “anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramps and bloating, irritability”. In addition, common symptoms of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity include: “abdominal pain similar to irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, headaches and paresthesia (tingling of the extremities)”. Commonly those who eliminate gluten or wheat from their diet experience subsiding of their ailments.

But after their symptoms subside another concern may arise. This concern is the direct opposite reason why they went on a gluten free diet. This concern is weight gain. Yes, many are eating gluten free thinking they are making the healthier choice but in many cases the gluten free option lacks the nutritional value that gluten products contain. All of this is rooted in the role of gluten. According to the Canadian Grain Commission, gluten “ contributes to the ability of dough to rise and maintain its shape as it is baked” In order to replicate the role of gluten in baking many manufacturers have turned to a combination of gluten free flowers, starches, and gums to hold the flour together. While taking a stroll down the supermarket aisle pick up a package of any gluten free commercially made product and notice the first, second, or third ingredient. Typically that ingredient is a form of starch, either tapioca, or potato; in addition to, low fibre flours such as white rice flour. Many of these flour substitutes are blood sugar spiking and have a high glycemic value. The key nutrient that contributes to the blood sugar rise is their lack of fibre content to help regulate blood sugar. The current Canadian recommendation for fibre intake is 25 grams daily for females 19 years and older, 38 grams daily for males 19 years and older.

So how can you live Gluten Free and be healthy? The following tips can help you balance your gluten free lifestyle with your overall health:
1. The first thing to think about is fibre. Any food that you consume ask how much fibre does it contain and how can you increase your fibre?
2. Avoid commercially processed gluten free products or anything that is made with tapioca or other starches.
3. Accept gluten free as a new way of eating. Find different ways to make dishes instead of substituting a gluten free version of that food.
4. Increase your intake of fruits, leafy green vegetables, and legumes.
5. Consider whole grain alternatives such as buckwheat, brown rice, and uncontaminated oatmeal.
6. When your fibre intake is still not enough consider supplementing with a soluble fibre supplement that contains psyllium husk.

Peter Chrisostomou
Nutrition Student
Humber College

Photo Credit: Emily Carlin via Compfight cc