February 18, 2014

Gluten-Free Mythbusters

Myth: Ding-Dongs are a thing of the past on a gluten-free diet (you can make them yourself!)

When you’re first starting a gluten-free diet, it can quickly become overwhelming. You have to read labels. You know you can’t eat wheat, barley, oats and rye, but have no idea where to find these ingredients in your food, and have been told they are lurking everywhere.

Or maybe you haven’t gone gluten-free yet. You’re just browsing around, and everywhere you look, you see the gluten-free label. You start wondering if maybe this is something you should try, for health benefits. It seems everyone else is doing it, after all!

So you start researching. You look up all these different websites, hoping for some guidance, but no luck. One site says one thing is okay to eat, another tells you that thing is unhealthy. Which is correct? What do you do?

These questions are what’s prompted this post. There are lots of myths about gluten-free living and your health. Let’s get started busting some of these myths!

Myth: A gluten-free diet is a healthier diet.

Fact: Gluten-free does not automatically mean healthy. A healthy diet is comprised of a variety of foods, from meats, to beans, to vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, nuts, seeds, even a sweet treat or the occasional French fry. For those without celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, eating gluten can totally be a part of a healthy diet.

But just because you eat gluten-free, regardless of whether you have celiac disease or an intolerance or not, it doesn’t automatically make your diet healthier. Many things are gluten-free. Gummy bears, vodka, kale, plain coffee, lead…all gluten-free. But eat any of these in excess (okay, don’t eat ANY lead, please) and it’s bad for your health. Healthy living is about a varied diet and moderation. So while gluten-free living is healthier for those that cannot tolerate it, such as those with celiac disease, gluten-free, by its definition, is not inherently a healthier diet.

Myth: A gluten-free diet will help you lose weight.

Fact: Any diet that reduces your calorie intake below the calories you burn will help you lose weight. The gluten-free diet is not a low-calorie diet or a weight loss diet – the diet is there to help those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance live without the symptoms gluten causes. Some people may lose weight when they start a gluten-free diet, but this is due to the fact that many readily available foods in restaurants and packaged foods are not gluten-free, and that may inadvertently lead to a reduction in calorie intake.

Bottom line: Restricting any food does not cause weight loss, and this includes gluten-containing foods. A gluten-free diet is again, healthy for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but is not a weight loss diet.

Myth: Those with celiac disease can cheat on their diet, as long as it’s only every once in a while.

When those with celiac disease eat gluten, their bodies become damaged by the proteins and they cannot properly absorb nutrients. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, it is because you have damaged intestinal villi. If you continue to ingest gluten, even tiny amounts, it can prevent the villi from healing, and your body will continue to be robbed of nutrients, leading to nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, and more. This is why it’s important to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet, including paying attention to cross-contamination sources and minimizing risk.

Myth: All gluten-free store-bought products are stripped of nutrients, and are unhealthy, cause a reduction in fiber intake, and cause nutrient deficiencies.

Fact: Many store-bought gluten-free products are made with refined flours and white sugars, much like their gluten-full counterparts. This doesn’t mean they are less healthy than comparables. A gluten-free cupcake or cookie, for example, is a lovely treat and while it does often contain refined flours and sugar, can be part of a varied, well-balanced diet. (Like I mentioned above, eating ANY single food, from cookies to kale, to excess can cause negative health implications. Moderation is key.)

Furthermore, there is more variety than ever in store-bought gluten-free products, and many items are full of nutrients. You can find delicious whole grain gluten-free breads, granolas, snack bars, pastas and more that are definitely not void of nutrients. Again, the key to a nutritious diet for anyone is variety.

Myth: It’s okay to self-diagnose and go gluten-free without going through medical testing.

Fact: Going on a gluten-free diet before receiving a medical diagnosis can cause test results to be inaccurate. If you think you have an issue with gluten, see your doctor and get tested. Once a proper diagnosis is made, then the gluten-free diet can be followed accordingly. Sometimes people (such as myself – I learned this the hard way) self-diagnose only to find that a gluten-free diet is not making them feel better. This can cause them to not find a proper diagnosis.

Myth: Going gluten-free can can alleviate a bunch of other medical conditions (besides celiac disease).

There have been numerous articles written about the correlation between the gluten-free diet and alleviating numerous conditions, from migraines to eczema to autism. Unfortunately, there is not scientific evidence to back this up. (In fact, a double-blind study at University of Rochester showed no discernible difference in sleep, bowel, or behavior patterns.) If you are experiencing unexplained medical symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor to obtain a proper diagnosis.

Myth: It’s difficult, if not impossible, to eat at a restaurant while on a gluten-free diet.

Fact: While you need to conduct some due diligence and ask some key questions at a restaurant prior to eating, if you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, eating out is not impossible. In fact, it gets easier every day, thanks to increased awareness, the increased prevalence of gluten-free menus in restaurants, and smart phone apps such as Find Me Gluten Free. For some tips on eating out, check out my tips on eating out at restaurants.

Myth: As long as I avoid wheat, barley, rye and oats, I’m fine, right?

Fact: The common foods such as regular bread, pasta, crackers, and baked goods contain gluten. But there are some sneaky places it lurks as well. Sauces, condiments, medicines, and makeup can also contain gluten. It pays to check labels carefully.

Myth: There are no good gluten-free breads, pizza crusts, bagels, donuts, etc.

Fact: Now that the gluten-free diet is more prevalent than ever, there are more manufacturers out there making delicious breads, buns, pizza crusts, bagels, and more. A bonus: they taste waaay better than the gluten-free products of old. Local Oven and Udi’s are two of my favorite brands. Also, you can make yummy gluten-free products in your own kitchen! Try out my quinoa pizza crust, for example. Gluten-free doesn’t mean a life without pizza, I promise!

What are some gluten-free myths you’ve heard? Let’s bust them too!

For more help getting started or managing a gluten-free diet, check out my Living Gluten and Dairy-Free page!

Learn more about living gluten free! Visit http://udisglutenfree.com/community

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Udi’s Gluten Free. The opinions and text are all mine.

4 Responses to “Gluten-Free Mythbusters”

  1. Thanks for the great post. My son was recently diagnosed with Celiac, and when I asked his GI doc (and purposely involved him in the conversation) about “occasionally” eating gluten and paying the consequences later, she brought the explanation down to his level (because let’s face it, talking about damaging his intestines kinda goes in one ear and out the other). She asked him “If you do it once, you are going to do it again, and again, and again. Because it’s hard to only do it once. You will just ‘pay the price’ whenever you want gluten, and in the long run, you will really hurt your body.” That seemed to resonate with him and he hasn’t asked again to try to eat gluten.

  2. Pingback: Foods to Avoid in a Gluten Free Diet

  3. Thank you for the list! I do agree that you should always see your doctor when you have unexplained medical conditions, however my son is in the spectrum and we’ve seen a dramatic improvement since going gluten and dairy free!

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