Oct 20, 2012

Warning: This Post is Not Gluten-Free

You may have noticed a little trend these days: gluten-free foods. Lately, it seems like more and more food products are labelled "gluten-free". Do these labels look familiar?

Garbanzo beans don't naturally contain gluten.

This is a bag of coffee I recently purchased. Last time I checked, coffee beans don't contain gluten either. Granted, the gluten-free label may be on food products with additives that contain gluten or those that have been processed on equipment that may have been exposed to gluten. But I wonder if companies are placing these gluten-free labels on products in attempts to increase sales from consumers who believe gluten-free diets to be healthier? It sure seems like it.  

The truth is that while gluten-free diets have gained popularity in recent years, they are only medically necessary for those who have Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity. But in other cases, simply restricting gluten in your diet is not likely to yield health benefits. 

A true "gluten-free" diet is very restrictive and omits things like wheat and other wheat products, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Wheat in particular is in so many food items that maintaining a strict gluten-free diet can be very challenging. Gluten is even found in some medications!

 I've read and heard claims that gluten-free diets can aid in weight loss but this just isn't true. Sure, someone who follows a gluten-free diet may lose weight, but it's likely because they're eating fewer calories from all the dietary restrictions than purely from avoiding gluten. 

So, that's the scoop on gluten-free diets. I'm not sure how much extra revenue food companies have earned from gluten-free adds, but it would be nice to see gluten-free labels geared towards supporting those who really need them rather than the latest fad diet.


  1. As a dietitian with celiac disease, I am constantly looking for those two magic words on packages. I've learned that foods that don't naturally contain gluten can still be contaminated by gluten based on where they're processed or by certain additives. There are actually some flavored coffee beans that are not gluten-free! But I've also learned not to trust the label "gluten free" in itself because labeling laws are not where they should be. A product can be labeled GF and then have the small print "made in a facility that processes wheat". That's a product I won't touch.

    I am looking forward to the day that effective GF labeling is in effect. It will make it much easier for celiacs to shop (and harder for companies to exploit the fad of the gluten-free diet).

    1. Alysa, thanks for your comment. I can certainly see the challenges of adhering to a strict GF diet and the importance of effective labeling. Sadly, it seems the increase in GF labeling is more in response to the fad diet surge than for people you really need it. But like you said, hopefully labeling will become more consistent and effective so that everyone can benefit.