Is gluten-free a healthy way to eat?
A gluten-free diet is recommended for people with celiac disease, gluten-sensitivity or dermatitis herpetiformis (a skin disorder). Some evidence suggests that a gluten-free diet may be helpful for some (but not all) people with irritable bowel syndrome, gluten ataxia (a neurological disorder), type 1 diabetes and HIV-associated enteropathy. Beyond this, there’s little evidence that a gluten-free diet offers any particular health benefits.
However, a gluten-free diet can still be a healthy way to eat depending on your food choices. Good gluten-free choices include naturally gluten-free foods, such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, vegetables, fruit, whole gluten-free grains and healthy fats.
It’s important not to replace gluten-containing foods with more red meat, full-fat dairy, starchy vegetables, sweets and fats, which can lead to a higher intake of cholesterol, saturated fat, sodium and unwanted calories. It’s also prudent to limit commercially prepared gluten-free snacks and bakery products, which are typically high in refined carbohydrate, fat, sugar and salt — just like their gluten-containing counterparts.
Studies suggest that the nutritional quality of commercially prepared gluten-free products varies somewhat from similar gluten-containing products. In several countries, for example, commercially prepared gluten-free foods are lower in protein than their conventional counterparts.
In the U.S., gluten-free foods tend to be lower in folate, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. This may be because in this country most wheat products are enriched with folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron, while gluten-free flours, cereals and bread products typically are not.
However, gluten-free whole grains, such as amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, teff, millet, corn and rice, are good sources of protein, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate and iron.
The bottom line is that whether a gluten-free diet is healthy depends on which gluten-free foods you choose, how often you eat them and whether your other food choices are healthy ones.