Is gluten-free really that good for you? Our friends at The Chalkboard Mag have some answers…
This post is part of an ongoing collaboration with The Chalkboard Mag. Images by FP Julie.
‘GLUTEN-FREE’ HAS become one of those phrases that is both revered and despised. There are those that must actually avoid gluten at all costs because they have been diagnosed with celiac disease; then, there are those that avoid gluten-containing foods because it may help with weight loss, or perhaps they have noticed some benefit in digestion, mood, or even skin. Some are even giving gluten-free a shot because it seems to be working for the latest top model on the diet. We get it – inspiration comes from the darnedest places.
Adapting a gluten-free diet, however, does not automatically mean that our diet is clean and healthy. The gluten-free food industry is booming, and with it comes a long list of junk-food-like gluten-free products that are indeed “gluten-free,” but packed with goodness knows what else.
We hear it often: “I tried a gluten-free diet, but it didn’t work.” Simply replacing gluten-containing baked goods with gluten-free versions usually isn’t enough to see a whole lot of improvement. Often gluten-free diets work because, when we remove gluten from our diets, we remove many refined and processed foods in general. What we are left with are whole fruits, vegetables and grains, without any of the processed or refined additives that cause many of our digestive and mood-related symptoms.
The tricky part with going gluten-free is that, if our bodies are unable to recognize a new food in our diets, we may not be able to properly digest the food and we will not benefit from or absorb the food’s nutrients. Gluten-free grains can still be highly processed and refined, creating inflammation in the body, and contributing to the symptoms.
Below are some of the top trouble spots in the process of going gluten-free. Watch for these ingredients and issues and share them with your gluten-free curious friends…
GLUTEN-FREE REFINED INGREDIENTS TO AVOID:
Xantham gum is produced from the fermentation of combining corn sugar (usually high-fructose corn syrup) with the bacteria xanthomonas campestris. It is commonly used as a thickener, emulsifier and food stabilizer. Some people are sensitive to xanthan gum as it can upset the stomach lining. Some studies have even shown xanthan gum responsible for intestinal tissue death in infants who are fed formula containing xanthan gum.
Maltodextrin is a food additive, produced from starch and used as thickener and filler in many foods and snacks. It is commonly used as a filler in sugar substitutes and may even have a slightly sweet flavor. It is likely to cause digestive upsets. It suppress good bacteria in the digestive system and raises blood sugar more than regular table sugar.
TAPIOCA OR POTATO STARCH
These starches are highly processed, causing blood sugar spikes, not to mention that potatoes are on the top list of ingredients that may be GMO so, if consuming these products, make sure they are organic!
Sugar is not an ingredient to worry too much about. In yeasted and sourdough breads, the yeasts consume the sugar in the grain and gluten. Because gluten-free breads don’t have the same chemical structure of their gluten counterparts, often additional sugar is added to help expedite the fermentation process and add flavor. Watch out for highly processed sugars like high fructose corn syrup, or “healthier”, refined sweeteners like evaporated cane juice and brown rice syrup. An easy tip is to read the nutrition labels and see how much sugar is contained in one serving.
MODIFIED FOOD STARCH
Modified food starch is a highly processed and chemically altered starch. The processes in which it is made may include treating it with acid, sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide and emulsifiers. The result to the body is similar to that of MSG: enhancing flavor, but possibly affecting the mood as well as digestion.
Guar gum is the processed fiber from the seed of the guar gum plant. It is used as a thickening, stabilizing, suspending and binding agent. While a much healthier choice than xanthan gum, guar gum can potentially disrupt digestion and act as a laxative.
Canola or hydrogenated vegetable oils are often used in food products because they are cheaper and more neutral in flavor. Unfortunately, they are highly processed and manufactured with chemicals, often hydrogenated, and made with genetically modified ingredients.
Whether you are gluten-free or not, many grain-containing products are likely sources for GMO’s. These genetically modified organisms have been altered in a lab and many of the effects to humans have not been well researched, which is concerning because we just don’t know how they will affect us – today, tomorrow, or ten years down the line.