Gluten Free Doesn’t Mean Calorie Free

Last week I overheard someone say “I can eat as many of these gluten-free cookies as I want because they are healthier than the peanut butter cookies”

Wait, what?

I hear this logic (or lack thereof) all the time. When people see something labeled “gluten-free,” they automatically assume it is lower in calories, carbohydrates, fat and sugar. Because, to them, gluten-free means free of everything deemed “bad” for your health or diet.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, it’s okay; it’s gluten-free. It can’t be that bad for you,” when the person offering the food doesn’t even have celiac disease?

First things first. What exactly does “gluten-free” mean? When food is deemed gluten-free, it means that it doesn’t have the protein known as gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and it’s a common protein source. In fact, you’ll find it in many foods, medications, and everyday items — not just your bread and cookies. Other foods like cereal, soy sauce, whey products, alcoholic beverages, such as beer, and even beauty products, such as lip balms, may also have gluten in them too. There are some people — about 1 in 100 — who suffer from an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease whose small intestines cannot process gluten properly and it causes a serious response in their digestive system. Unless you have celiac disease or are allergic to gluten, going gluten-free will not give you any additional health benefits. The average person won’t get any additional health benefits from foods with the “gf” labels and these new products may even be less healthy. In addition, one Canadian study compared the costs of 56 ordinary grocery items and found that on average, the gluten-free products were 242% pricier than the gluten-containing versions.

Gluten is not harmful to your health and is not making you gain weight. Since so many foods now come in gluten-free versions, it’s easy to think that they are a better alternative — which would be wrong. Gluten is found in many whole-grain foods that have an array of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and are vital to a healthy diet. People who eat three servings of whole grains a day are 30 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The right mix of healthy carbohydrates, like whole-grain products, is the best way to control your blood sugar and avoid diabetes — plus they help to keep you full throughout the day. Whole grains are also the vehicle for many of nature’s disease fighters, like phytochemicals. Without these foods, we’d be sitting ducks for cancer, heart disease, and more. So when you’re cutting out gluten for no real reason, you’re losing all of the nutritional benefits found in foods with gluten.

Gluten-free doesn’t automatically mean “low calorie” or “healthy.” In fact, gluten-free foods are full of extra calories and sugars to make up for taste and texture when alternative products are swapped. They also tend to have less fiber than their gluten-containing counterparts. Unless people are careful, a gluten-free diet can lack essential nutrients since a lot of the gluten-free products tend to be low in B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Another rule of thumb, don’t confuse “gluten free” with “low carbohydrate,” some gluten-free pastas are actually higher in carbohydrates than regular pasta.

Weight loss comes from balanced, healthy diets — gluten free or not. When you’re trying to lose weight, the key is to make conscious choices about your eating.

Many people have fallen for the marketing ploys tricking them into believing that gluten-free means fewer calories or less fat. While walking down the health food aisles in the grocery store you’ll spot a box of chocolate chip or creme-sandwich cookies marked as gluten-free, thinking that they have fewer calories than regular products. As soon as you read the nutrition label, you’ll be sorely disappointed and shocked that these cookies have either the same or worse nutrition facts than their counterparts. Stop falling for these tricks. If you don’t have an intolerance to gluten, then stick to a well-balanced diet.

The Bottom Line: If you want to lose weight, you shouldn’t cut out an entire nutrient in your diet, such as gluten. Save money and focus on creating a calorie deficit while eating a variety of nutritious foods and exercising regularly in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.


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