Going “gluten-free” means removing the protein gluten from your diet. Gluten is primarily found in bread products and grains, but can be used as a filler and found in products like sausage casing, soy sauce, and even yogurt.
The only people who need to follow a strict gluten-free diet are those suffering from celiac disease – a digestive and autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten. The damage to the intestine makes it hard for the body to absorb nutrients, especially fat, calcium, iron, and folate.
Going “gluten-free” became popular as a weight loss tool and is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Unfortunately, according to nutrition consultant, Wendy McCallum,“going gluten-free is not the golden ticket. If you don’t do it right, you’re probably not going to see a difference at all on the scale.”
Whether or not you’re ‘doing it right’ largely depends on the gluten-free choices you make.
“A lot of the products on the market that are gluten-free are just replacing wheat and gluten oats, or gluten products with potato starch, corn flour, cornstarch, very low fiber replacements,” says registered dietitian Nicole Marchand.
Marchand says many gluten-free cookies, crackers, and cereals contain these ingredients and lack nutritional value. A lot of these processed foods add sugars to help with flavoring and consistency issues.
“You can end up having the same amount of calories and increasing your blood sugar the same as if you were using wheat,” says Marchand.
The truth is, unless you suffer from celiac disease, gluten is not harmful to your health and is not making you gain weight. Since so many foods now come in gluten-free versions, it’s easy to think that they are a better alternative — which would be wrong. People who eat three servings of whole grains a day are 30 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The right mix of healthy carbohydrates (like quinoa, farro, brown rice, and whole grains) is the best way to control your blood sugar and avoid diabetes. Moreover, they help to keep you full throughout the day and are the vehicle for many of nature’s disease fighters, like phytochemicals. Without these foods, we’d be sitting ducks for cancer, heart disease, and more. So when you’re cutting out gluten for no real reason, you’re losing all of the nutritional benefits found in foods with gluten.
If you think you have a gluten sensitivity, try to limit the amount of gluten and also pinpoint the particular foods that seem to bother your system. A lot of American breads (especially the packaged kinds) add extra gluten to the bread as a preservative so that might be the real culprit – not gluten that is found naturally in certain products.
Thanks to Fitness Magazine for this delicious recipe using the whole grain bulgar. Yum!
Tabbouleh with Feta and Shrimp
Makes: 4 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
1 cup bulgur*
1 packed cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch ground cumin
Pinch dried mint
8 ounces medium cleaned, shelled, tail-on shrimp, thawed if frozen **
1 large pickling cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup chopped scallion
1/4 cup crumbled feta (optional)
1. Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the bulgur. Bring the liquid back to a boil and then cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let sit for 25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together 1 teaspoon of the parsley with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, cumin, and mint.
3. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the shrimp and simmer for 1 1/2 minutes. Drain, then rinse under cool water.
4. Place the bulgur in a serving bowl and toss with the shrimp, cucumber, tomato, scallion, feta, the remaining parsley, and the dressing. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Nutrition facts per serving: 297 calories, 19g protein, 35g carbohydrate, 10g fat (2.3g saturated), 9g fiber
* Bulgur cooks quickly and has a subtle, nutty flavor.
** Shellfish allergy? Substitute fish (tilapia or cod would be an excellent choice) or 6 oz. skinless chicken breast.