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Are Gluten-Free Foods Healthier?

A good friend of mine has celiac disease, which means she can't eat any foods that contain these "evil" ingredients: wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oats. If she does, she pays the price with painful stomach cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea, but the scary thing is that it can even be fatal. She's not alone; it's estimated that one in 133 people in America suffers from this disease.

Due to its prevalence, I'm sure you've noticed the shelves of gluten-free food options available out there from cereals, to baking mixes, to pizza dough, to pastas. I had my friend over for dinner the other night, and a mutual friend wondered if she'd be better off ditching gluten foods from her diet too, even though she has no problem digesting it. To find out if going gluten-free is healthier,


Wheat, rye, barley, and oats are nutritious ingredients, so there's no reason a person who doesn't have celiac disease should give up foods made with them. I will say that often these ingredients are overprocessed and used in unhealthy foods. So while it wouldn't make sense to give up whole grain bread or whole wheat pasta, a person would be healthier if they passed up crackers and bagels made with enriched white flour. So you see, it's not the gluten that determines the nutritional value, it's how the foods are made. Also to be noted, I've seen plenty of gluten-free "junk food" such as brownies, cakes, and cookies that contain just as much sugar and fat (maybe even more to replace the gluten) as their gluten-filled counterparts. A person can eat a completely gluten-free diet that's high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar, and end up being very unhealthy.

If a person goes gluten-free, and instead focuses on eating more fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and gluten-free whole grains such as quinoa and millet, then, yes, that diet is healthy. But it has nothing to do with the fact that it's gluten-free — it's just nutrient-rich. Ditching gluten from your diet is not a surefire path to health. It's best to choose foods that are the least processed and as close to nature as possible, regardless of whether they contain gluten or not.

Join The Conversation
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I try to avoid processed foods for the most part and I'm always leery of "organic", "gluten free", "wheat free", etc. processed foods. I mean, if you're eating a brownie, it's not exactly health food even if it's gluten free.
snapperdoodle snapperdoodle 7 years
I have two family members on GF diets, one with diagnosed Celiac Disease, and the other with gluten intolerance. One of the most difficult parts of being on a GF diet is getting enough fiber. Most GF foods contain very little fiber, so they have to find alternate ways of getting it, like eating a lot of vegetables and fruits and alternate whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and GF oats. A GF diet CAN be healthier than the average American diet, but only if it means giving up processed foods in favor of whole foods, which you can do without going gluten-free in the first place.
mallorycurtis mallorycurtis 7 years
Most processed foods are, in general, not the healthiest things. I eat gluten-free because it makes me feel a lot better, but I try to stay away from boxed and frozen gluten-free stuff (besides some crackers and rice pasta) because they generally have more fat and sodium in them than the regular stuff. If everyone just stopped eating so much over-processed food, we'd ALL be healthier.
cherryblossom cherryblossom 7 years
Gluten free foods are not meant for everyone, nor are they meant to be a healthier alternative, gluten free foods are mainly for people with celiac disease or other digestive system problems that have an allergic reaction to gluten itself, no one really claims that gluten is healthier for everyone but for this specific group of people they certainly are. If exposed to gluten with an allergy you can develop anything from psoriasis and other skin disorders to not being able to absorb the proper ammount of nutrients from your food because the villi in your intestines wear down from the gluten exposure. So the long and short of what i am trying to say is that yes for some people gluten free foods ARE in fact healthier but they are not neccesarily supposed to be aimed at the entire human population.
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