Gluten Free Myths

Today I am featuring a guest post by my friend and Extension colleague, Dawn Earnesty, MS, RDN with Michigan State University Extension. Dawn is a mom, wife, extension professional, and a student! I met Dawn through NELD (National Extension Leadership Program) (and have blogged about our experiences here and here) and have enjoyed getting to know her better personally and professionally.  Dawn has a great passion for foods and healthy eating and today she provides more information on gluten free myths!

As a reminder…Gluten is a protein that is common in the diets of U.S. consumers. It is found in wheat, barley, rye, and their grain relatives. Gluten is what helps bread expand while the dough is rising and hold its shape while it’s baking and after it cools. It’s also what makes bread chewy.

Dawn Earnesty, MS, RDN – Michigan State University Extension

Gluten free, dairy or lactose free, low or no carbohydrates, fat free, no Trans-fat, increased protein? These are some of the catchy nutrient descriptions that are used to market diets and food products. Moreover, we often hear a lot from the media and pseudo medical professionals about the wonderful benefits of either decreasing or increasing the amount of a specific food nutrient, which may create two groups that advocate opposing views.

Subsequently, the public becomes confused with the inconsistent health information. This may lead to some people following a restricted diet when it is not necessary or someone not following a diet restriction when they are at risk or have a health condition that requires a specific diet. This is why it is really important to seek out information from professionals that are knowledgeable in evidenced-based nutrition or simply, a registered dietitian nutritionist before starting any type of restricted diet. These professionals have the knowledge to guide you in making sure the lifestyle changes you are following are appropriate for your situation. So what are some of the known information regarding a gluten-free restriction?

Gluten free food products are now very popular: Sales of these products are expected to raise $10-15 billion within the next two years. While there are people who actually have celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there are more who follow a gluten-free diet for reasons other than gluten sensitivity.

When food companies remove ingredients or nutrients from foods, they may add other items that may not provide health benefits. For example, some gluten free product alternatives may likely be processed, higher in calories, higher carbohydrates and lower in nutritional value. People who do not necessarily need to follow a gluten free diet may be better off eating whole grain food products that provide them nutrients such as fiber, not found in gluten free foods. For more information on gluten download the Facts about Gluten sheet.

When it comes to nutrients, gluten free does not necessarily mean healthier: A good example to look at is the nutrient value of a gluten free cinnamon roll versus a regular cinnamon roll.

 (Regular) Pillsbury cinnamon roll:

One roll with icing

 (Gluten free) Udi’s cinnamon roll: One roll with icing

Calories: 140

Total Fat: 5 grams

Sodium: 340 milligrams

Total carbohydrates: 23 grams

Sugars: 9 grams

Calories: 300

Total Fat: 6 grams

Sodium: 370 milligrams

Total carbohydrates: 50 grams

Sugars: 30 grams

Some of the gluten free products, however, have no difference in nutrients as shown in gluten free bread versus regular whole wheat grain bread:

(Regular) Nature’s Own 100%

Whole Grain Bread:One slice

(Gluten-free) Udi’s

whole grain bread: One slice

Calories: 100

Total Fat: 2 grams

Sodium: 150 milligrams

Total Carbohydrates: 19 grams

Sugars: 3 grams

Calories: 70

Fat: 2 grams

Sodium: 130 milligrams

Total Carbohydrates: 11 grams

Sugars: 1.5 grams

People who enjoy choosing gluten free foods, even when it is not medically necessary must remember to still make half of their plate fruits and vegetables. It is also necessary to choose lean proteins and provide variety and balance within snacks, beverages and meals. It is most beneficial to focus on our whole diet intake rather than one single nutrient.

Consumers also need to look into health claims, even when sources may appear trustworthy. We are constantly bombarded with information from both sides of the argument. It is up to us to be informed and always rely on evidence-based information. Sometimes recommendations change and that is fine. If we do not understand the given information, we can always seek assistance from a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Source: Michigan State University

 Looking for gluten free recipes and baking tips? Check out the UNL Food page!


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6 thoughts on “Gluten Free Myths

  1. Lindsay, Thanks for the post as too many people are using the gluten-free diet as a fad without truly understanding the diet to ensure proper nutrition. One note regarding the following statement that is misleading “People who do not necessarily need to follow a gluten free diet may be better off eating whole grain food products that provide them nutrients such as fiber, not found in gluten free foods.”: many gluten-free products do not contain high amounts of fiber; however, that doesn’t mean that all gluten free foods don’t contain fiber. It really comes down to the grains used in creating the product. As someone diagnosed with celiac’s disease, I make/use products made from sorghum flour and different bean flours to increase my fiber intake (besides the fact that many fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free and full of fiber). The following information sheet shows the fiber in sorghum flour based on USDA nutritional analysis:

  2. Great point Jenny! Yes there are some gluten-free products that provide a great source of fiber but “many gluten-free products do not contain high amounts of fiber.” Additionally fruits, non-starchy vegetables and nuts can be a great source of fiber to meet your 25 to 38 grams of fiber needed per day.

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