Q: What is the most common mistake people make on a gluten-free diet?
A: The biggest mistake that people make on a gluten-free diet is an over-reliance on manufactured, processed foods. Many people think that because something is gluten free, it is therefore “safe” to consume. It's not true in many cases.
Highly processed “gluten-free” food products set people up for potential health problems in three different ways. First, these products are sometimes contaminated with unwanted gluten. Even though some grains and flours are naturally gluten free, these are often processed in the same facilities—and with the same equipment—as wheat, rye, and barley, where they can inadvertently pick up gluten.
For instance, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that nine out of 22 inherently gluten-free products, such as corn and millet, contained mean levels of gluten ranging from 8.5 to 2,925 ppm. Also, 32 percent of naturally gluten-free grains and flours that were tested contained gluten in amounts greater than 20 ppm. Given those findings, gluten contamination of naturally gluten-free grains and flours is certainly a legitimate concern, so it's important to be careful when purchasing these types of products.
Second, like all processed foods, gluten-free products can also promote sharp increases in both blood sugar and the fat-storage hormone insulin. Gluten-free foods made with rice flour, cornstarch, potato starch, and tapioca starch are typically loaded with refined carbohydrates and are high on the glycemic index, meaning that they are converted to sugar quickly and can spike blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels set off a cascade of metabolic events that lead to uneven energy levels, increased hunger, addictive eating, weight gain, and a worsening of heart disease risk factors.
Finally, gluten-free convenience foods may also be made with genetically modified (GM) ingredients, which have been linked to serious health risks in animal studies, including reproductive problems, gastrointestinal problems, and immune system issues. A 2013 report by the Institute for Responsible Technology suggests that GM foods may also trigger or exacerbate gluten-related disorders, including celiac disease.
Many processed gluten-free foods contain common genetically modified ingredients, including corn (especially in cornstarch, cornmeal, corn syrup, corn oil, fructose, and xanthan gum); sugar derived from sugar beets (found in most “sugar” listed on product ingredients,
but not in "cane sugar”); canola oil; and soy (including soy flour, soy milk, tofu, soy oil, and soy lecithin).
Protect your health by shopping defensively against these potential problems. First, opt for whole foods—
especially fruits, vegetables, protein, and nuts—as much as possible. When selecting processed foods, try these tips:
Simple Grain-Free Biscuits
Makes 9 biscuits
These grain-free, low-carb biscuits make a handy and delicious substitute for bread. Fill with chicken and gluten-free gravy. Or make a sandwich: Try pot roast slices, gluten-free sausage, a poached or fried egg, or nut butter and apple slices.
1/3 cup organic coconut flour
5 Tbs. organic coconut oil or organic butter, melted
4 large organic pastured eggs
¼ tsp. unrefined sea salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. apple cider vinegar
per biscuit: 115 cal; 3g pro; 10g total fat (8g sat fat); 3g carb; 83mg chol; 129mg sod; 1.5g fiber; <1g sugars
Melissa Diane Smith is a nationally known writer and holistic nutritionist who counsels clients across the country and specializes in using food as medicine for a wide variety of conditions. She is the author of Going Against the Grain and Gluten Free Throughout the Year, coauthor of Syndrome X, and a non-GMO educator and speaker. To learn more about her books, long-distance consultations, nutrition coaching programs, or speaking, visit her websites melissadianesmith.com and againstthegrainnutrition.com.
Gluten-free foods made with rice flour, cornstarch, potato starch, and tapioca starch are typically loaded with refined carbohydrates.