Going Gluten-Free: Healthy or Hype?

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Whole wheat, the once-loved super grain, is quickly losing its reputation thanks to the rise in gluten-free dieting. But while necessary for those with celiac disease and beneficial for those with a gluten intolerance, it turns out a wheat-free diet might just be more “hype than healthy” for the rest of us. 

According to celebrity dietitian Ashley Koff, eliminating gluten from your diet can be beneficial if it means eliminating or significantly reducing your intake of refined grains, which have been stripped of dietary fiber, iron and B vitamins among other nutrients. This not only means excluding many breads, cereals and baked goods from your diet, but also other products such as many pastas, imitation and substitute foods, broths, processed meats, marinades and creamy sauces.

“But if you replace poor quality gluten-containing products with poor quality gluten-free ones, you haven’t done yourself any favors nutritionally,” Koff explains.

True whole grain wheat contains the entire grain seed, including the bran, germ and the endosperm, which are chock full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats. (Note:  According to The Whole Grains Council, products labeled with a "whole grain" seal only require at most 51 percent whole grain by weight. The other 49 percent can be anything from sugar and refined grains to sodium and artificial coloring. Make sure you choose labels that read “100 Percent Whole Grain” (and not just “made with”) or you may fall prey to a food marketing scheme.)

“Look for ancient wheat’s like Einkorn, spelt and Kamut too. These “ancient” grains haven’t been hybridized the way modern wheat has so you get higher amounts of nutrients,” says Koff.

Not sure if you’re allergic to wheat or simply want to try something different? Koff recommends non-gluten options like quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and the array of different whole grain rice available, which contain similar texture to wheat grains and in their whole food form and all the healthy benefits.