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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:
- Seek out gluten-free foods produced by companies that protect against gluten contamination. Buy gluten-free grain and flour products that are regularly tested for gluten content, produced in dedicated gluten-free facilities, have gluten contamination counter measures in place, or are certified by organizations such as the Celiac Sprue Association, Quality Assurance International/NSF International, and the Gluten Intolerance Group (which is behind the Gluten-Free Certification Organization or GFCO). These organizations have programs that certify foods that test below 5 or 10 ppm-stricter standards than the 20 ppm that will be required by the Food and Drug Administration starting in August.
- Make your own baked goods with almond flour or coconut flour. Carbohydrate sensitivity is rampant among my clients, so I recommend baking with almond flour (such as Dowd & Rogers or Honeyville) and/or coconut flour (such as Coconut Secret). Nut flours and coconut flour are naturally gluten free, rich in nutrients, low in carbohydrates, and lower-glycemic choices than traditional options such as rice flour, potato starch, or cornmeal.
- Be GMO-savvy when purchasing convenience foods. Avoid gluten-free products that contain corn, sugar, canola oil, and soy, or look for those that are labeled USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.
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
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix coconut flour, coconut oil, eggs, and salt together in mixing bowl. Add baking soda, then apple cider vinegar, and quickly mix to distribute throughout.
- Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of batter onto baking sheet. Use back of spoon or your hands to spread batter into rounded disc shapes about 2½-inches wide and ¼-inch thick.
- Bake 11-13 minutes, or until moist but cooked through. Cool 10 minutes before serving.
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.