February 11, 2017

The Wrong Way to go Gluten-Free (& What to do Instead).

Everyone knows “gluten-free” has become a major buzzword.

Restaurants now proudly offer gluten-free options, and even mainstream supermarkets have whole aisles dedicated to the trend. It seems like everyone has jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon.

As a doctor, I often see gluten as a major cause of digestive, autoimmune, weight, mood, and neurological problems.

Unfortunately, going gluten-free has a major downside when we do it incorrectly. 

As gluten-free gains popularity, food companies—well aware of a potential marketing opportunity—turn processed, sugary junk into gluten-free processed, sugary junk, but we tend to associate gluten-free with healthy, so these labels are misleading.

Those cookies might boast “gluten-free” in big, bold letters, but turn the box around and read ingredients. Those types of products are usually higher in sugar, flour (that converts to sugar), trans and other damaging inflammatory fats, and weird food-like additives that add up to big profits for these companies and added poundage around our midsections, all while sabotaging our health.

Gluten-free cupcakes and cookies are still cupcakes and cookies. Besides usually being higher in sugar and other junk ingredients, the gluten-free claim creates a “health halo,” so we often reach for seconds and thirds.

These gluten-free, sugar-loaded foods raise blood sugar levels and contribute to inflammation, which plays a role in nearly every disease on the planet. Because they are often loaded with flour, they can also lead to serious health challenges like leaky gut syndrome.

Nature created its own gluten-free diet with whole foods like avocado, almonds, and broccoli. We needn’t succumb to marketing claims and believe gluten-free cookies or other junk foods are somehow healthy.

I help my patients intelligently go gluten-free without falling into the duplicitous marketing trap with these five tips:

  1. Cook at home. The cure for what ails us—in our bodies and in our nation—originates in the kitchen: the very first step in reclaiming our health. When we cook at home, we know no gluten or other harmful ingredients slip into our food.
  2. Stop buying the “healthy food costs more” myths. Savvy marketing convinces us that cooking real food costs too much, is too hard, and takes too long, so we rely on inexpensive, “convenient” foods that shrink our wallets and our health. After all, “convenient” food hardly proves convenient when we become sick. Research shows eating real food doesn’t have to be more expensive or take longer to make.
  3. Eat out smartly. Eating out can be fun, and we all do it sometimes. We can choose the restaurant to find the best quality with the most options. Gluten-free menus are great, but don’t replace one bread or pasta with an even worse form of bread or pasta. Choose grilled or baked chicken, fish, or other protein and pair it with a side or two of vegetables and some healthy fats like avocado and extra-virgin olive oil.
  4. Don’t be fooled by the food industry. Remain suspicious about health claims. A label is nothing more than food marketing at its cleverest, seducing us into an emotional purchase that tricks us with misleading health claims.
  5. Read ingredients. If real food is at the end of the list and sugar or ingredients we don’t recognize are at top, put it back. The most abundant ingredient is listed first. Others are listed in descending order by weight. Better yet, keep it simple and just eat real, whole food.

If you’ve gone gluten-free, have you ever been tempted to buy gluten-free junk foods? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook page.


Author: Dr. Mark Hyman

Image: Rob/Flickr 

Editor: Emily Bartran

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