Just Because It’s Gluten Free Doesn’t Mean It’s Healthy
Have you ever heard someone say about a food they’re eating, “But it’s gluten free!” implying that because the food they’re consuming is gluten free, it has to be healthy and ok for them? Maybe you’ve even caught yourself saying that.
In the years I’ve had of helping people on their health journeys, I have heard this phrase time and time again. I know this mentality and have decided it’s time to properly address this myth that just because a food is gluten free, it has to be healthy.
Just because it’s gluten free does not mean it’s healthy! Don’t buy the lie!
At One Point in my Life, I Believed the Lie That Gluten Free Means Healthier
I have been eating gluten free for almost a decade now and I have to honestly tell you that in the beginning years, I did think that almost every product that was labeled gluten free was healthier for my body. I bought into the myth due to my lack of awareness and understanding.
What I didn’t understand was that the food containing no gluten was only ONE ingredient to pay attention to for eating an anti-inflammatory diet, healing autoimmunity and truly eating healthy for my body.
There were several other food factors that, in my ignorance, I did not pay attention to determine if a food or product was healthy and something I should be eating.
I’d like to share with you the 7 other food factors that need to be considered, that determine whether a gluten free food or product is healthy or not.
How to Determine if a Gluten Free Food is Healthy
There are seven food factors to pay attention to when you are trying to determine if a food or product is a healthy choice.
When examining a gluten free food to decide if you should buy it and eat it, the very best choices are foods without labels like organic fruits and vegetables straight from the produce stand (or your garden.) Those, along with unprocessed, grass-fed and pastured meats, organic eggs and homemade bone broths make up an excellent, nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, gluten free diet.
However, when deciding to purchase packaged, gluten free products, these are the 7 factors you’ll need to analyze before spending your hard earned cash:
- The type and quantity of starch it contains
- The type and quantity of sugar it contains
- Whether the product contains GMO’s
- The types of fats in it. Are they quality or not?
- Whether the product is Organic
- The type of “other” ingredients in the product
- The nutrient density of the product
1 | The Type and Quantity of Starch It Contains
Leaky gut is always present with autoimmunity and starch can exacerbate leaky gut (intestinal permeability) by contributing to microbiome dysbiosis, gum up the enterocytes that help to process the nutrients through the intestinal barrier and cause blood sugar imbalances which can directly affect gut health.
Starches can also feed SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), cause extreme fatigue, bring on brain fog and, in extreme consumption, worsen adrenal fatigue.
Let’s look, for example, at the product below.
One might think that consuming these crackers as a snack would be ok because they’re gluten free. Actually, these crackers are not a healthy choice due to the starch and some other food factors.
These Glutino Gluten Free Crackers have three types of simple starch in them – rice and two types of corn. Corn is extremely hard on the intestines to digest and rice can increase symptoms of those with Leaky Gut. These crackers also contain dextrose, which is essentially sugar. Two other ingredients included are Guar gum which impairs the intestinal functioning and is terrible for someone with leaky gut, and natural flavors which are derived from a myriad of chemicals. Don’t let the word “natural” fool you. It’s a misnomer this day and age.
The starches in these foods can wreak havoc on already damaged and inflamed intestines. These starches turn to sugar in the body and the added dextrose will further spike insulin levels and create symptoms.
Furthermore, these starches (and dextrose) are GMO which we will talk about in another section. It is likely that the non-organic rice starch contains arsenic too.
Lastly, natural flavor can be comprised of hundreds of different chemicals that are initially derived from nature but often chemically altered. You may recognize the term “MSG.” That ingredient can hide in the word natural flavors.
These crackers are not a healthy choice.
Choose This Instead
Instead of a cracker, why not try a sliced cucumber round or a carrot coin? You could even make your own crackers from juice pulp or with higher protein & fiber flour like coconut flour or if you tolerate nuts, almond flour. If you absolutely have to have a cracker, this would be a good option because they are higher in protein and lower in starch, plus they are Non-GMO verified.
I wanted to mention something else very important about consuming certain starches with a leaky gut.
Legumes are another ingredient that, while healing, should be avoided. Yes, they are gluten free but legumes contain phytates, lectins and saponins that further damage a leaky gut and prevent healing.
When I first went gluten free, I used this flour and other types that were laden with gluten free grains, legumes, rice flour and potato starch.
These were not healthy for my body and, in fact, they hindered my gut healing for years until I figured out that my body couldn’t tolerate these starches.
The lectins in the garbanzo beans, fava beans, potato starch and sorghum kept my intestines inflamed and raw. This is one of the reasons why just eating gluten free did not make me feel better.
It wasn’t until I removed the high lectin, phytate and saponin containing foods that I started to find healing.
2 | The Amount and Type of Sugar the Product Contains
While navigating gluten free foods, another ingredient you are going to want to pay attention to is sugar.
You’ll need to understand what type of sugar is in the product as well as the amount. Sugar depletes our body of important vitamins and minerals it needs to heal. It also causes oxidative damage to our cells causing them to function poorly.
During my healing journey, I did not eat ANY sugar (including fruit sugar) for an entire year. That may not be the solution for you, but I can say without a doubt that eliminating ALL refined sugar is a must for healing.
When it comes to unrefined sugar, there are some good, whole food choices to use for sweeteners, should your body tolerate them. They are dates, sweet potato, raw local honey, coconut sugar, organic stevia, and maple syrup. Even these need to be used in extreme moderation when healing though.
Let’s examine this bag of gluten free cookies for a moment.
Remember, just because it’s gluten free, doesn’t mean it’s healthy!
While the amount of sugar in these cookies is not off the charts like some cookies, the type of sugar is the problem in this product. The very first ingredient is sugar and guess what? It’s GMO. You’ll need to read this article to find out why GMO’s are detrimental to your health but trust me, they are not something you want to be ingesting.
Take note that there are four types of sugar in this cookie! I include rice flour as a sugar.
There is also GMO soy (which can be problematic for hormone regulation), rice flour which turns directly to sugar in our system and xantham gum, which as I said above in regards to guar gum, can be very harsh on damaged intestines.
Since the vanilla extract is not organic, it likely has alcohol derived from GMO corn too. This product is neither organic or non-GMO verified. I will be addressing that in a section below.
Tates Bake Shop Cookies, although they look enticing, are not a healthy choice.
Choose This Instead
Instead, choose an organic, non-gmo cookie with an almond flour base (if you tolerate nuts) or a coconut flour base which is nut free.
Those ingredients will naturally provide more protein and fiber as well as less sugar and carbohydrates. These are one of my most popular, truly healthy, gluten free cookies that you might like!
3 | Are There Genetically Modified Ingredients in the Product?
Addressing GMO’s are an entire topic which is why I devoted a very detailed article to this very subject. You can educate yourself about GMO’s at Feasting On Joy so you know why to avoid them.
When purchasing a gluten free product you’ll always want to look for these symbols to be confident that the product will not contain any genetically modified organisms and will be free of pesticides and herbicides.
4 | What Types of Fats Does the Product Contain?
Not all fats are created equal! The quality of the fat you are consuming matters very much for your health and well being.
The best types of fats to consume are God-made fats. These are the ones that come directly from animals (and a few plants) that God created.
Incidentally, even God-made fats need to be chosen with discernment due to man-made changes to them. The best choice of animal fat to consume is from grass-fed and pastured animals that are fed an organic diet free of GMO grains and are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Grass Fed Beef Tallow or Lard from Pastured Pigs are great choices
Another great choice for fat is organic, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil. This oil should only be used raw or at very low temperatures because it is very fragile and can be damaged easily.
Let’s look at these Kind Healthy Grain Granola Bars.
Unfortunately, the only fat they have in them is a very toxic one- Canola oil.
Canola oil is an extremely processed oil that comes (unnaturally) from the canola plant. To extract the oil, hexane is used. Hexane is a solvent. To process canola oil, neutralizers, dewaxers, bleach and deodorizers are also used.
Canola oil promotes inflammation in the entire body which leads to autoimmunity, weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and many other detrimental health problems.
Furthermore, there are 8 types of grains in this gluten free snack product.
Remember what I said about grains in the starches section above? They will not heal your gut. They will further damage a leaky gut. The only types of gluten free grains that are healthy for someone who has put their autoimmunity into remission are properly prepared and soaked grains. Much like our ancestors used to do. This process reduces the lectins and phytates and makes the grains easier to digest.
These Kind bars are also not organic or non-GMO so that means that the sugar and soy lecithin are both filled with GMO’s. These bars are all around inflammatory and very unhealthy.
These Kind Bars are Not a Nutritious Choice
Choose This Instead
A better choice would be a high protein jerky rather than a grain and sugar-filled bar laden with chemicals, toxins and GMO’s.
5 | Is It Organic?
We’ve already talked about a little bit about the product being organic but here we can dive a little deeper. Organic, gluten free products will be non-GMO and contain none of the following:
- sewage sludge
- endocrine disruptors
- heavy metals
- drug residues for growth promotion, etc.
Let’s look at this All Purpose Baking Mix
This Simple Truth Organic Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Mix is organic. That’s a good thing. You can see that even the individual ingredients on their label are all organic.
I also love that the product is labeled (where the red circle is) to tell the consumer that this brand does not use any genetically engineered ingredients. Those are both pluses!
However, the downside to this baking mix is the starch, grains and gums. Even though this product is gluten free, does not use GMO’s and is organic, it is comprised of unhealthy ingredients that promote inflammation, brain fog and can exacerbate autoimmunity as well as problems like ADD/ADHD.
This baking mix is not a good choice
Choose This Instead
If you want to make a really healthy pancake use this recipe instead! There is very little starch in this recipe (per pancake) and instead, the base is high in protein. Topped with dairy free, organic ghee, which is a good quality fat, these pancakes are a great choice!
6 | Pay Attention to the “Other Ingredients”
Personally, I think this is where it’s easiest to get duped into thinking you’re buying something healthy.
There are so many loopholes for honest labeling these days that it really helps to know your ingredients.
There are a few rules of thumb to follow:
- If you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it. The unpronounceable ingredient is likely not health promoting.
- Don’t think that the word “natural” means healthy either. It doesn’t. The word natural is a very gray area when it comes to food labeling and can often be anything but natural.
These potato-based pop chips will spike your blood sugar, further damage inflamed intestines due to the lectins and phytates in the potatoes and gum up digestion due to the rice starch.
In addition, this product is not organic which means that the potatoes that are used are heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides as potatoes are one of the crops on EWG’s dirty dozen list.
Sadly, Gluten Free Pop Chips also contain maltodextrin which is derived from GMO corn.
The worst offender ingredient in these is Autolyzed Yeast Extract. Do you know what that is? It’s a secret word meaning MSG. MSG is an excitotoxin and has been linked to many neurodegenerative diseases. It also tricks your body into craving more and more of this food and enhances the taste making it more craveable.
These Pop Chips are Not a Healthy Choice
Choose This Instead
7 | Is the Food or Product Nutritious?
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the best gluten free choices for food are the ones that don’t have labels with ingredients to be deciphered.
However, I know that in our society today we like convenience. The most exciting thing I see happening in the food industry today is that more and more health conscious companies are creating truly healthy gluten free, whole food packaged options. But we still need to use discernment.
Vitamins and Mineral Content
When you choose a gluten free food you’ll need to determine if it has vitamins and minerals in it from real food and not just synthetic forms.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is the product you are considering God-made or man-made in a lab?
- What type and quality of fat does it contain?
- What is the amount of carbohydrates as well as the type of carbs. Are they simple or complex? A good rule of thumb for a person with chronic health issues and a desire to lose weight is to only eat 75g and below of complex carbs each day. If you ate 16 of those Glutino Crackers in the beginning that would be 46g of carbohydrates!
- Pay attention to the micro and macronutrient density of the food in question. Will it supply your body with the trace minerals it will need to function or will it deplete your body of these vital nutrients? Remember, sugar depletes!
- Will you be making a deposit into your health bank account or will you be making a withdrawal due to the food you are consuming?
These are all questions to ponder and think about while making smart and healthy gluten free food choices.
What Choice Will You Make Next Time You Buy a Gluten Free Food?
You’ve learned that just because a food is labeled gluten free, doesn’t mean it’s actually healthy for your body.
Be mindful of the type and quantity of starch the food contains, the type and quantity of sugar it contains getting rid of all refined, GMO sugar from your diet.
Ask yourself whether the product contains other genetically modified organisms and find the Non-GMO verified label on the package. Look at the types of fats in the food. Are they quality or crud? Search for a 100% organic label and second, best is the USDA Organic label.
Be sure to read each ingredient on the ingredient list and determine whether it is health promoting or health hindering.
Lastly, but certainly not least important, be sure to discern whether the food is nutrient dense and will help give your body vital micro and macronutrients.
You can make great choices with where you spend your hard earned dollars and the type of food you choose to eat. Let me know if you have any questions or want to share any victories in the comments below!