The gluten-free craze has overtaken the supermarket aisles. Gluten-free products, once only available in specialty food stores, are now featured prominently in nearly every category of grain-based products.
While striving to live a healthier lifestyle and make better food choices is an admirable goal, you should exercise caution before jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon.
What You Need to Know About Gluten
What Is Gluten?
First of all, many people don’t even know what gluten is, let alone why they should be eliminating it from their diet. Gluten is a naturally-occurring protein in wheat, spelt, and a few other grains. About one in 100 people have celiac disease — a condition in which the body treats gluten as an allergen. Some people are highly allergic and must eliminate all gluten from their diet, and can even react negatively if they come into contact with it. Others may not be strictly diagnosed with celiac, but have various degrees of allergic symptoms. This is called gluten sensitivity and is hard to diagnose.
If you suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the ready access of gluten-free products in recent years is a blessing; but if you’re not, it can be easy to assume that gluten must somehow be bad for you. That’s certainly how the marketing companies are painting it.
Is Gluten Really Bad for You?
Again, if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, eating gluten-free may not only be the best option for your health, but the only option! If you’re not, gluten may not be your worst diet enemy. The tricky thing is that many people eliminate bread and pasta from their diet, and start losing weight, feeling less bloated, and showing generally better health. This isn’t necessarily due to gluten.
Eliminating any processed carbohydrates from your diet will yield these results, because they typically represent nutrient-deficient, calorie-dense, low-fiber foods. For this reason, it’s a good idea to eat fewer processed grains of any kind — whether you’re gluten intolerant or not.
Of course, if you suspect you have a gluten sensitivity, you should get tested. Diagnosing less severe cases of gluten-induced symptoms is difficult, so it’s best to trust your body. If your body works better without gluten, go for it. But know the difference between the medical condition and a dietary choice, and be prepared for the cost and sacrifices.
Gluten Is In More Than You Think
Some people decide to go gluten-free and simply eliminate wheat-based breads and pastas from their diet. But gluten is present in a multitude of packaged foods, such as condiments, sauces, and meats. You may be paying extra for the gluten-free noodles in your stir fry, but replacing it with the gluten in your soy sauce! This is just one more reason to be fully aware of the reasoning behind your food choices.
Gluten-Free Foods Are Expensive
One of the major reasons to think twice before you go gluten-free (unless you’re allergic) is the expense of this lifestyle. Though gluten-free products are flooding the market, they’re still vastly more expensive than their glutenous counterparts; in many cases, you’ll pay up to three times as much for a gluten-free product. I recommend heavy couponing and filling your diet with naturally gluten-free food such as vegetables and fruits, some dairy, and fresh meats.
The gluten-free craze may continue — but with some research and planning, you can avoid getting sucked into it for the wrong reasons, and save money on your grocery bill while still living a healthy lifestyle.
Are you gluten-free? How do you save money on GF products?