Is a gluten-free diet healthier?

by Khushboo on November 10, 2014

If there’s one label that’s gotten the spotlight over the past few years, it’s gluten-free.  Eating a gluten-free diet seems to have become as trendy as a pair of Chanel espadrilles.  I’ve recently received plenty of questions about whether eating a gluten-free diet is healthier.  It really depends on 2 key issues:

  1. The approach
  2. The individual in question’s health 

Although food manufacturers, the media & approaches like the Paleo diet have vilified gluten, it’s important to note that a gluten-free claim by no means indicates that a food is more natural, healthful or lower in calories.  Many gluten-containing whole grains actually rack in plenty of nutrients including B vitamins, fiber & calcium.  Whether one’s goals are weight loss or overall wellbeing, gluten-containing foods can play a positive role.  While naturally-occurring gluten-free foods can certainly boost your health, be weary of gluten-free processed foods.  The latter tend to be lower in fiber, vitamins and minerals than their conventional counterparts. You guys know I love my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups but just because it contains no gluten, it doesn’t mean I can turn a blind eye to its sugar content.

A bed of sautéed kale topped with ponzu tofu, grilled mushrooms pumpkin & tomatoes, and a dollop of hummus

A bed of sautéed kale topped with ponzu tofu, grilled mushrooms, pumpkin & tomatoes, and a dollop of hummus

That being said, eating a gluten-free diet might be necessary, especially if you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, a digestive & autoimmune disorder.  In such cases, consuming even small amounts of gluten tend to trigger a gastrointestinal response including vomiting, weakness, fatigue, bloating and diarrhea.  Individuals who have been tested negative for Celiac disease but experience discomfort after eating gluten might suffer from a gluten sensitivity.  In both cases, avoiding gluten can help such individuals alleviate such symptoms.  Therefore in both cases, eating a gluten-free diet is healthier and will help them feel better.

Egg 'Fried' Quinoa

Egg ‘Fried’ Quinoa

Although I don’t suffer from any adverse reactions from eating gluten, my diet gravitates more towards gluten-free meals primarily out of preference: I rather eat a bowl of oatmeal (*see point below) over a piece of toast for breakfast.  I don’t eat too many processed foods, which is where gluten is prevalent.  I rather eat quinoa over couscous & the Indian in me prefers rice over pasta.  When eating Indian food, I find rotis (flatbreads) made from  sorghum, millet & corn flour more satisfying than wheat-based rotis.  Roasted potatoes taste awesome. 

Going back to the question raised at the start:

Is a gluten-free diet healthier?

Eating a gluten-free diet is not a golden ticket to good health & weight loss, especially if you’re filling your cart with packaged foods gluten-free cookies & consuming mass amounts of gluten-free pasta. However if you are basing your diet on gluten-free foods which are whole & unprocessed, then absolutely.  If eating gluten-containing foods makes your stomach hurt, a gluten-free diet is absolutely healthier for you and will probably help alleviate the symptoms.

Buckwheat Breakfast Crepe

Buckwheat Breakfast Crepe

Although it can be overwhelming for those who suddenly need to eat a gluten-free diet, it can actually be really easy if you focus on real, whole food.  Even though certain pastas & breads are off limits, there are still plenty of whole grains & starchy carbohydrates to choose from which are by no means exotic or more expensive….as listed above :).  

*While oats are naturally gluten-free, a small portion of patients with Celiac disease do react to oats.  As most mills that process oats also manufacture gluten-containing grains, cross-contamination may occur.  As a result, those needing to eat a gluten-free disease should take extra caution to seek out varieties which are certified uncontaminated, pure or gluten-free.

What’s your take on the  ‘gluten-free’ trend?

What’s your favorite gluten-free  carb?

Related posts:

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Shashi @ RunninSrilankan November 10, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Great post Khushboo!
The Sri Lankan in me tends to prefer rice over pasta too – and quinoa over rice – and oats above all else 😉
My daughter has a slight gluten sensitivity – she can eat a small quantity of gluten-full foods – like maybe one cupcake with regular flour – but if she overdoes it she has gastric issues – she would much rather eat a bowl of pasta over a bowl of rice and would gladly tuck into toast over oats – but the discomfort isn’t worth it. Docs wanted her off gluten completely – but in her words – that’s like telling an alligator never to go near water!

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Thanks Shashi- it sounds like we share similar taste buds ;)! Sorry to hear your daughter suffers but it’s great that she was able to pinpoint what triggered the gastric distress.

Reply

Karuna November 10, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Great post. I can’t eat gluten and dairy because of stomach issues. Can you please give the recipe for gluten free roti and the buckwheat dosa I see in the picture. Thanks and love your blog

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Thanks Karuna! Here’s a recipe for gluten-free roti: http://kthadani.com/2013/10/28/oat-lolis-oat-flatbread-recipe/ . Aside from gluten-free oats, try making your rotis from jowar (sorghum) or millet (bajra) – both are naturally gluten-free.

Reply

Parita @ myinnershakti November 10, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I love your take! My thoughts are 100% in line with yours! And while I personally think this diet should be limited to those who have gluten sensitivities, I do think the whole foods approach is one that everyone should embrace.

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Whole foods should be the basis of any diet, regardless of intolerances 🙂

Reply

Amanda @ .running with spoons. November 10, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Ohhh the gluten-free trend… I love how a good chunk of people who eat gluten-free don’t even know what gluten is — they just avoid it because they think it’ll help them lose weight, and then think that any sort of processed crap is healthier just because it’s gluten free. The same way that some vegetarians eat loads and loads of fake processed meat just because they think it’s better than eating real meat. I don’t think anyone should give up food just because everyone else is doing it… especially because, like you said, there are a lot of minerals in gluten-containing foods. That being said, my favourite GF carbs are definitely oats and rice.

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Ick just the thought of processed vegetarian meat makes me shudder- how on earth can that be considered healthier than a piece of chicken breast is beyond me!

Reply

Jen @ Bagels to Broccoli November 10, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Khushboo, as always – this post is excellent! I like that you distinguish between the reasons why going gluten free may not be the best option for some but can also be necessary and totally doable for others.

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Thanks so much, Jen for your kind words 🙂

Reply

Pragati // Simple Medicine November 10, 2014 at 9:08 pm

ohhh I have so many things to say on this… so many! You’re so right about gluten free not equating to healthy. I agree with limiting gluten products simply because we are a society that over consumes everrrrything. But I hate it when I see someone snacking on gluten free cookies because they’re misinformed.

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:19 pm

You & me both, Pragati- gluten-free cookies may not contain gluten but they are likely to contain plenty of artificial crap!

Reply

Brittany November 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm

I am not officially GF, nor do I think I am gluten sensetive, BUT I do notice a huge difference in energy and BLOAT when I have too much. For these reasons alone I try to avoid it. Plus this just forces me to eat more whole foods and such.

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Eating more whole foods is never a bad thing 🙂

Reply

Sam @ Better With Sprinkles November 11, 2014 at 1:35 am

great post lady! I think that the gluten-free thing is more of a trend than anything else. There are definitely people that have to avoid it for health reasons, but I think a lot of people that refuse to eat it are just doing it as a means to ‘be healthier’ or lose weight. I think it causes a lot of headaches, especially talking to friends of mine who work in kitchens and have to do everything they can to avoid cross-contamination for people who aren’t actually affected by it!
Favourite GF carbs – sweet potatoes and squash!

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Thanks Sam :)! I can definitely understand your friend’s frustration although I must commend her and her restaurant for being so meticulous with ensuring orders meet special dietary requirements!

Reply

Tara @ Sweat like a Pig November 11, 2014 at 2:47 am

What’s funny is my body responds fine to white bread and pasta, but I can’t deal with oats! Or brown bread. Go figure – the processed food is actually better for me 😉

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm

As healthy as finer can be, there’s no denying that sometimes it can be too much for sensitive stomachs to handle. I actually recommend white rice to a few of my clients who suffer digestive discomfort.

Reply

Hayley McKenzie-Sealy November 11, 2014 at 3:15 am

Nice! I know some people who have gone GF just to lose weight and I always thought that was silly. Meanwhile those who HAVE to go GF wish they didn’t have to. Great post.

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Thanks so much, Hayley :)!

Reply

Lucie@FitSwissChick November 11, 2014 at 3:23 am

I don’t have any allergies, but too much gluten is uncomfortably for me, my tummy doesn’t like it so much. I tend to eat just little gluten if possible.
But….Buckwheat Crepes???? Did I miss a recipe?
And egg fried quinoa….seriously, just found TWO new meal inspirations!!

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Haha unfortunately no recipe to share- I ordered the crepe at a restaurant here…SO yum!

Reply

Linda @ TheFitty November 11, 2014 at 4:55 am

Definitely not! Gluten free does not mean healthier, just as the labels vegetarian, all natural, or sugar free. Products can still be loaded with crap and I prefer to just buy foods without any labels at all–i.e. fresh meats!

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Yes- in most cases, the products that come with the most labels tend to me most processed!

Reply

dixya@food, pleasure, and health November 11, 2014 at 8:12 am

this is exactly what i tried to explain to my class today although some of them very adamant about their gluten free crackers and pasta to help with weight loss.

Reply

Khushboo November 11, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Hope your students took your words to heart 🙂

Reply

Miss Polkadot November 12, 2014 at 4:33 am

Thanks for addressing the topic. While I’m not eating gluten-free myself – or at least don’t pay attention to it – it’s obvious a LOT of people – especially in the blog world – eschew gluten. Not always because they’d been tested positive for celiac’s disease. I’m sorry to say it but at least for a few people I -assume- obviously don’t know (!) they use it in an at least slightly disordered way. Had gluten-free been a trend when I developped my ED I might have jumped on the train to have an excuse to ditch many foods, too. This way, it was veganism for me for a while.
Okay, enough of the rambles, come to think of it I’ve been eating largely gluten-free lately by accident. Polenta has been my go-to carb and the potato dish I created on the weekend wasn’t bad, either. I’m German so white potatoes are standard in my repertoire, haha. Then again, don’t take my gluten-filled pretzel thins away from me. Balance.

Reply

Khushboo November 14, 2014 at 8:56 am

You’re so right- getting on these fad diets is another way of covering up a potential ED.

Love polenta, especially baked in the oven 🙂

Reply

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table November 12, 2014 at 11:06 am

I love that you wrote this. Like other “special diets,” people take them SO out of context. I think with gluten often it’s the people that eat a lot of packaged goods. We (as a society) weren’t intended to eat as much as we do. I don’t make an effort to be GF, but by eating a cleaners diet I naturally don’t have a lot.

Reply

Khushboo November 14, 2014 at 8:57 am

It really is all about the context – rather than pinpoint that certain foods are the cause of various illnesses & obesity, it’s easier to just say that all foods containing gluten are inherently bad…er no!

Reply

GiGi Eats November 13, 2014 at 7:48 am

There are so many misconceptions about gluten-free diets and I hate the people who talk so much about them, that people get annoyed, then just make fun of them and think they’re not necessary, when in fact they truly are to some people – like moi! You definitely doled out some very useful non-bias information 🙂

Reply

Khushboo November 14, 2014 at 8:58 am

It’s terrible when people are so blindly judgemental- as long as you’re feeling better without gluten, that should be none of their business.

Reply

Cat November 16, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Such a good point! I’m very similar to you – while I don’t omit gluten altogether (and am very grateful not to have a serious condition like Coeliac disease) I do generally eat a gluten-free diet – but primarily for enjoyment! Meat, fish, eggs and veggies are gluten-free, after all 😉

But I get a little frustrated when people omit gluten without replacing it with healthy options – it’s like someone who is vegetarian for health reasons but subsists entirely on packaged tofu meals and chocolate bars!

Reply

Khushboo November 16, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Agreed…and I feel the same applies to protein. Just because something is high protein (e.g. protein bars) doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to the amount of crap pumped into it to ensure it tastes decent!

Reply

Laura November 16, 2014 at 7:30 pm

My nutritionist had me follow a GF diet for a couple of months because we couldn’t pinpoint where all of my digestive woes were coming from. I fell victim to all of the processed GF foods and found myself unsatisfied, lower in cash (those things are PRICEY) and surprisingly higher in weight. GF doesn’t mean you lose weight….I’m the perfect example ha!

Reply

Khushboo November 16, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Oh boy- once you cleaned up your diet, did eating gluten-free help solve your digestive issues?

Reply

Laura November 16, 2014 at 9:20 pm

I still have a bunch of labs to do in order to find out if I have an allergy or something is wrong with my digestive system, but for now I know what foods bother me and what foods don’t and just try my best to stick to them. Gluten bothers me in large amounts (I used to eat bread for every meal and snack) so just making sure I get variety, minimize my gluten consumption, and avoid what I know bothers me is the best I can do for now!

Reply

Khushboo November 18, 2014 at 12:14 pm

I’m glad that you were able to pinpoint a trigger- at least now you can minimise the discomfort somewhat!

Reply

Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets November 17, 2014 at 5:14 pm

I love gluten or actually I love the vehicles in which it comes. It doesn’t do anything other than make me happy so I will continue to eat my toast one day and my granola the next.

From what I understand, gluten is an allergen the same way pet dander is or cigarette smoke. Some people are sensitive to it and others not so much. You know which category I fall into.

Reply

Khushboo November 18, 2014 at 12:15 pm

The cigarette analogy is such a good way to put it- definitely using it next time someone blindly decides they are “gluten-intolerant”!

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 5 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: