The gluten-free diet is all the rage for athletes, models and people who want to lose weight. But just like going vegetarian, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to go gluten-free.
As someone with Celiac’s disease, an actual gluten allergy, I do not recommend going totally gluten-free unless you absolutely have to, as it’s a real commitment. There are plenty of healthy grains containing gluten, such as spelt and faro, which pack a healthier punch than wheat, and can be easily used to replace less healthy wheat options.
However, many people feel much less bloated when they eat gluten-free. So if you’re determined to try the diet, there are some things you should know:
First of all, what is gluten? If you’re going to cut it out completely, you’re going to have to know what you’re looking for. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains that gives baked products their elasticity. That nice, slow rip that you get when you break a piece of bread? Yeah that’s gluten. And gluten can be found most simply in wheat, barley, rye, and malt.
So going gluten-free means no bread, no pasta, no baked goods, nothing with flour, nothing fried, nothing with bread crumbs, nothing malted…you get the gist. Depressing right?
Corn, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, oats (if certified gluten-free), buckwheat, amaranth, and teff are all gluten-free substitutes and can be really tasty if prepared well.
So just like any diet, there are right and wrong ways to go about cutting out gluten. Most gluten-free alternatives, such as gluten-free bread and other sweets, will have an extremely odd texture and taste and will be even worse for you and higher in calories than their glutenous equivalents.
There is an assumption that because these products are gluten-free, they are healthier. This isn’t true, as wheat flour has a nutritional value. A cookie made out of rice, potatoes and a million other ingredients you can’t identify does not.
If you’re going to eat gluten-free substitutes for bread products, find ones with legitimate nutritional value or good texture. This will require finding a gluten-free bakery you like, or going to Whole Foods.
However, I like to think of going gluten-free as going low-carb. The healthiest way to eat gluten-free is to increase your protein and vegetable intake and to have carbs on the side.
Our culture has come to believe that having a big bowl of pasta (aka carbs) is a meal, but in reality, we shouldn’t be eating so many carbs. We should be eating vegetables, fruit and some protein and carbs. The gluten-free diet gives you a chance to prepare yourself balanced meals with no shortcuts and forces you to be conscious about what you’re putting in your mouth.
So if you choose to go gluten free, don’t just buy a bunch of gluten-free breads and pastas and go on eating the way you have. Change your diet so that you’re eating mainly foods with one ingredient. This way, you have a low-calorie, low-carb diet that’s easy and delicious when prepared appropriately. You may feel better physically, and you should feel better about your health.
Photo by Sabine Clermont