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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The most influential man you may have never heard of…

This week is National Agriculture week, and today (March 25) is National Ag Day! For those of us in agriculture, this is our week to geek out if you will. I believe agriculture is important enough to be celebrated daily, but since it is not, here are some fun facts for you…

The Agriculture Council of America (ACA) is responsible for conducting the National Ag Day annually as a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture. Both the ACA and National Ag Day were founded in 1973! There are four key values, they believe every American should:

– Understand how food and fiber products are produced.

– Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant, and affordable products.

– Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.

– Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food, and fiber industry.

Heifers thinking I may have some special treats for them…

Before the ACA and National Ag Day, there was a man named Dr. Norman Borlaug (March 25, 1914 – September 12, 2009) who was called the “Father of the Green Revolution”. He was also called the “Man who saved a billion lives”! Those are some amazing and powerful titles. Dr. Borlaug was born on a farm in Ceresco, Iowa; he studied forestry, plant pathology, and microbiology; and was a practical, energetic, hands-on researcher who worked side-by-side with farm workers, students, and interns. Dr Borlaug spent 22 years in Mexico, and during that time a dwarf variety of wheat was developed that produced large amounts of grain, resisted disease, and resisted lodging (bending and breaking of the stalk on high producing varieties). This wheat variety was not only planted in Mexico, but also in India, Pakistan, Central and South America, Near and Middle East, and Africa – and was responsible for feeding a billion starving people!

Dr. Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug received many prestigious awards in his lifetime including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal (the last two medals are the highest a civilian can receive). In 1984 he went to Texas A&M University as a Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture. The Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture has been established at Texas A&M, with the mission “To employ agricultural science to feed the world’s hungry and to support equity, quality of life and mutual respect among peoples.”  

The man credited with saving a billion lives – Norman Borlaug

As you may have noticed, today, March 25, would have been Dr. Borlaug’s 100th birthday. To honor this legend, a statue of his likeness will be unveiled tonight at the U.S. Capitol by congressional leaders and Iowa lawmakers.

Dr. Norman Borlaug

Today, on National Ag Day, and your 100th birthday celebration, I salute you Dr. Normal Borlaug, for your tremendous advancements in plant breeding and genetics!