Gluten-free product sales have doubled in the past four years and are now at an estimated $23 billion per year! It’s a huge market, but it could lead you down the wrong path. BIG FOOD has figured out how to ride this trend and is creating products left and right – some good, most of them bad. Are you eating any convenient gluten-free replacements for the baked goods that you used to love?? Or are you trying to eat gluten-free to lose weight? If you are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease, I realize you may have to buy a loaf of gluten-free bread or crackers but not all gluten-free products are created equal or healthy! I’ve got tips for you at the end of this post that will help you keep a gluten-free lifestyle in a healthy way and give you the kick in the pants to get rid of that gluten-free junk food once and for all. But first, let’s do a reality check.
Common pitfall of the gluten-free diet: Gaining Weight
You may not realize that a gluten-free diet is not designed to help you lose weight. It’s a specific diet for people who either have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or an allergy. When people with celiac disease start a gluten-free diet, their digestion greatly improves over time and it’s common for them to gain some weight. This is healthy for them, and means that they are healing. So, it’s considered normal for some people to gain weight on a gluten-free diet. Another reason some people gain weight (or too much weight) on a gluten-free diet is because they aren’t choosing the right kinds of foods and this is what this post is about.
If you’re picking up gluten-free hamburger buns, breads, and pizza crusts – you might be in for a BIG surprise.
Sure, if you’re doing it right and eating whole and unprocessed gluten-free foods, you will likely lose weight. But the popularity of the gluten-free diet has given rise to an industry of gluten-free convenience foods that contain questionable additives, added sugar, nutrient-empty ingredients and the majority of them are not organic!
Overall, the gluten-free specialty food aisle contains some of the most heavily processed food in the grocery store that won’t do your body any favors.
For instance, in gluten-free products you might find yourself eating a lot of starchy replacement flours like tapioca starch, potato starch, and rice flour. According to Dr. William Davis:
“These powdered starches are among the few foods that increase blood sugar higher than even whole wheat. It means these foods trigger weight gain in the abdomen (“gluten-free belly”), increased blood sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes, cataracts, and arthritis. They are not healthy replacements for wheat.”
Besides gaining weight and putting yourself at risk for several diseases, you may become nutrient deficient. When you continually eat these processed ingredients you can become deficient in several vitamins, minerals and fiber. Without the nutrients that you need to feel your best, you are really setting yourself up for failure.
So, what are you supposed to eat if you are on a gluten-free diet?
You probably already know what I’m about to say… 🙂 But here’s the kick in the pants that you may need:
Simply stop buying processed gluten-free replacement foods that can sabotage your health and fill your diet with healthy whole foods (vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds, lentils, nuts) that nourish your body.
Be cautious on how much of the following ingredients you are eating:
Tapioca Starch – One of the main ingredients used to replace wheat flour is “tapioca starch”, which is very high in carbohydrates, but hardly contains any fiber, fat, protein, vitamins or minerals, and basically just supplies empty calories that can spike blood sugar more than refined sugar does. This ingredients is often used as the primary flour replacement in so many foods that could be using healthier gluten-free flours. I realize tapioca starch can be hard to avoid completely on a gluten-free diet – but it’s something to make sure you aren’t eating a ton of!
Rice Starch, Rice Flour & Brown Rice Syrup – Rice is a very common in gluten-free diets, but it’s notoriously contaminated with arsenic, which is a “potent human carcinogen” according to scientists at Consumer Reports and classified as a group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In 2012, Consumer Reports tested more than 200 rice products and found significant levels of arsenic in several rices (especially brown), rice cereals, rice cakes, rice crackers, rice pasta, rice flours, and brown rice syrup. This can be a problem in gluten-free diets, because rice is found in so many gluten-free foods.
If you find yourself eating rice or rice-based ingredients every day, you may want to limit your intake and seek out alternatives. Contact the companies that you buy rice products from and ask them if they test for arsenic and where their rice is grown. Rice that is grown in California has been shown to contain lower amounts of arsenic than rice grown in other parts of the country.
Corn & Soy – Corn and soy ingredients (corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup, soybean oil, soy lecithin) are found in a lot of gluten-free pastas, crackers, and cookies. When you see anything made from conventional corn or soy on a label, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s genetically modified (GMO) because the vast majority of these crops in the U.S. are GMO. Roundup-Ready GMO crops are designed to be sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate and have been shown to accumulate glyphosate. This is a big deal because glyphosate has been deemed a “probable carcinogen” according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and is also believed to destroy healthy gut bacteria, just like antibiotics do. So, it’s not something that I want sprayed on my food!
Refined Sugar – Gluten-free foods use sugar to replace the flavors lost when grains were removed, and it’s almost impossible to find a gluten-free product without added refined sugar! So, do your best to find products with the least amounts that you can. You’ll often see sugar listed several times on the ingredient list in its many different forms: corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrin, sugar, etc. Also beware that unless the ingredient label says “cane sugar”, it is likely sugar from GMO sugar beets.
Inflammatory Oils – Besides coming from GMOs, canola, soy, and cottonseed oils are processed to death before they end up in our food. The most commonly used is soybean oil, which is high in omega-6 fatty acids that increase the risk of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
Xanthan Gum – When the gluten is taken out of baked goods, food companies often add the additive xanthan gum for texture and softness. This hasn’t really been shown to be a dangerous ingredient to eat, but be aware that it’s often derived from GMO corn and triggers allergies or gastrointestinal issues in some people. If I see this on an ingredient list, it may not be a deal-breaker – but I try my best to avoid it and seek out the non-GMO variety.
Tips for eating healthy on a gluten-free diet:
- Instead of using a gluten-free tortilla, make a wrap out of collard greens. The individual leaves can be blanched to take on the texture of a tortilla, and they are way healthier too! Another good option are coconut and vegetable based wraps.
- Choose pastas that are made from lentils or beans, like these ones from Tolerant Pasta – or make your own “noodles” out of spaghetti squash and zucchini (using a spiralizer like this).
- Substitute sprouted quinoa for rice when making stir-fry’s and other dishes that are typically served over rice.
- Use baking recipes that primarily call for flours with healthy nutrients such as coconut flour, almond meal, buckwheat flour, quinoa flour, chickpea flour, teff flour or sorghum flour. Sometimes these are mixed with a bit of tapioca flour for texture, just make sure you are using nutritious flours as well.
- If you can’t bake your own bread, seek out store-bought breads that are made from nutrient-rich grains. Happy Campers has some healthy breads made from organic whole seed teff, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth, that don’t contain brown rice (which is nearly impossible to find anywhere!), and they will ship it to your home.
- Make pizza crusts from cauliflower. Sounds crazy, right? But cauliflower blends up with goat cheese and eggs into a great dough for pizza that’s packed with nutrients. Cauliflower also can be blended up in a food processor into “rice” that you just saute for a few minutes to make the perfect rice substitute.
- Instead of dipping packaged gluten-free crackers into hummus, make my Hummus Mezze Plate with fresh veggies and goat cheese. If you want to add crispy store-bought chips or crackers, Brad’s Raw Chips are some of my fave chips out there. I’m also a fan of Mary’s Gone crackers (they grow their rice in California where arsenic levels are lower, and contain no refined flours or sugars).
- For snacks choose bars like Raw Crunch that have organic seeds, nuts and dried fruit. (Since they are a Food Babe partner brand, you can get 10% off using code: FOODBABE at checkout).
- Last but not least… Eat more produce! Fruit, veggies, beans and salad greens are all naturally gluten-free, so don’t be afraid to try new ones every week until you find your favorites.
I’ve also got plenty of gluten-free recipes already here on the blog, such as these:
- Vegetable Lasagna With No Noodles
- Cauliflower Lentil Taco Salad
- Pumpkin Quinoa Porridge
- Avocado & Carrot Salad
- Homemade Healthy Energy Bars (use certified gluten-free oats)
- Turkey Meatballs With Spaghetti Squash
- Creamy Avocado & Sweet Pea Pasta (use Tolerant lentil pasta)
- Raw Coconut Macaroons
- Sprouted Lentil Stuffed Peppers
If you want more tips for adding gluten-free foods to your diet in a healthy way and want a real food based weight loss program, the Food Babe Membership Program can help you. You’ll get 16 new recipes each month (5 breakfast, 5 lunch, 5 dinner + 1 new salad dressing recipe) with detailed grocery lists, videos, webinars and the support of the Food Babe Team. Check out all the details here.
Do you know someone on a gluten-free diet that needs this information and survival guide? Then please share it with them. Sharing this information is so critical to sending a message to the food industry that we want more nutritious gluten-free products.