There has been a lot of negativity towards gluten-free diets lately. We have seen tons of articles on how eating gluten-free isn’t any better for our health (unless you have Celiac’s disease). While it may be true that the gluten-free products themselves aren’t necessarily healthier, there are still reasons why going gluten-free can benefit your health. Here are 5 reasons why a gluten-free diet can be healthy, that has nothing to do with gluten itself.
1. Gluten-free Products Are Not as Readily Available
You eat less when less is available. While it is easy to have a diet high in wheat foods (because most conventional products contain wheat), it isn’t as easy (or cheap) to have a diet high in gluten-free bread, pasta, snacks, etc. Why is this good? Because grains are not a very nutrient dense food. Regardless if the grains contain gluten or not; having a diet high in grains is unhealthy because you will be missing important nutrients. You need room in your diet for fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, and other unrefined, nutrient dense foods; most of which are naturally gluten-free. Consider going on a road trip; most gas stations and fast food places don’t sell any gluten-free options, so you would have to pack your own snacks such as trail mix, fruits/veggies, homemade snacks. While gluten itself may not be a problem, it can get you on track with healthier eating habits. Not having as many convenience options will encourage you to eat more real food, and less snack food.
2. More Variety in Grain
Variety is highly important in your diet because it helps ensure that your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs, including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. While wheat is only one particular grain, gluten-free products are usually made of a variety of grains and starches including quinoa, amaranth, millet, rice, potato, tapioca, arrowroot, and many others. This avoids the issue of having a large amount of one single food (most commonly wheat) in your diet.
3. Encourages Homemade Meals and Baked Goods
Cooking your own meals means you have control over what is going into them. Most people choose to use higher quality ingredients in their meals when compared to store-bought/take out meals. Specifically, cooking at home will reduce the amount of refined vegetable oils you are consuming (unless you are cooking with these oils, which I would recommend you don’t). Home cooked meals generally use fresher ingredients, which have more nutrients in them as well. You can add extra healthy ingredients to homemade baked goods such as chia or flax seed to give them an extra boost. Lastly, you can use more natural sugars such as honey or dates, and also reduce the amount of sugar used overall in your baking. Home cooked meals and baking is important no matter what type of healthy diet you are following.
4. Brings Awareness to the Ingredients List
When you do purchase snacks or other packaged foods, you will be more likely to read the ingredients list to make sure there is no gluten in them. Some of the items that contain wheat flour are surprising such as pasta sauce, soups, and even some meat products such as pepperoni. This will make you more diligent in checking the ingredients before you purchase an item. While reading the ingredients list you are more likely to come across other ingredients you may not like such as added sugar, food dye, or MSG. Regardless of gluten itself, reading the ingredients list will help you make a more informed decision about the product.
5. Motivates You to Continue Learning About Health
Most people who decide to go gluten-free, even if they aren’t allergic to gluten, are usually doing it for their health. Even if it’s a bit misguided to think gluten is the most important thing to cut out of the diet, it’s still a step in the right direction to be concerned about your health and trying to better yourself. If you are concerned about one aspect of your health, this will usually branch out to include other important factors such as regular exercise and getting enough sleep. People who are interested in health might read some nutrition books, or join an exercise class. Sometimes even a small change is enough to get you started with an overall healthy lifestyle.
Any Diet Can Be Unhealthy.
While the gluten-free diet has received a lot of negative press on how its not healthy, it is best to keep in mind that there is a wrong way to do every diet. For example, people on the paleo diet can do it wrong by not eating enough vegetables, eating too much nuts or meat, and making too many “paleo treats” (such as muffins that are primarily made of almonds and honey). Vegetarians can do their diet wrong by relying too heavily on soy foods (tofu, soy milk, soy cheese, textured soy protein as a meat replacement, etc.) and eating too many grains. A gluten-free diet can be very healthy, as can paleo and vegetarian diets.
…and now for some fun. I think this video is hilarious, but it also has some great advice on what not to do while following a gluten-free diet (if you turn around what he’s saying).
So next time someone tells you they are going gluten-free, try to suppress your disdain. Even if the person doesn’t realize it, they will be benefiting themselves in one way or another. Of course, you don’t have to be exclusively gluten-free to enjoy any of these benefits. Any type of healthy diet should consist of mostly whole foods with a decent amount of variety and home cooked meals.
Do you follow a gluten-free diet?
Let me know in the comments if you have noticed any benefits that surprised you/aren’t directly related to gluten.