Why gluten-free foods aren't necessarily healthier

Now that many of us are trying to avoid gluten like the plague, a slew of gluten-free products have started appearing in our stores. Unfortunately, many of these foods are advertised or understood as healthy alternatives, which is often far from the truth.

Before we get into this, it needs to be pointed out that gluten is a health concern. Many people with celiac disease or a diagnosed gluten sensitivity have to avoid gluten to prevent damage to their small intestines and to reduce inflammation. Even people who aren't immediately sensitive to gluten — a protein found in wheat and grain-based foods — should probably avoid it; as Alessio Fasano from the University of Maryland's Center for Celiac Research points out, no one can properly digest gluten — a known anti-nutrient (foods which interfere with the absorption of nutrients).

But here's the deal — if you're going to eat gluten-free foods, like gluten-free cookies, bagels, crackers, pasta, and bread — it's important to remember that many of these products contain ingredients that are likely far worse than gluten. Like added sugar, for example. What's more, many of these foods rank high on the glycemic index — a system that ranks food based on the way they affect your blood-sugar levels. And in fact, a recent study showed that gluten-free foods have a glycemic index nearly identical to those with gluten. Lastly, unlike most wheat-based products, many gluten-free foods don't have added B-vitamins and iron.

So, if you're trying to lose weight and improve your cardiovascular health, eating calorie-rich, sugar-infused gluten-free foods is certainly not the way to go. Instead, limit added sugar to about 10% of your total daily calories, or six tablespoons per day, and choose foods low on the glycemic scale. And if you need to eat carbs that are gluten-free, try rice, quinoa, amaranth, and millet.

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