Is gluten free bread healthier than regular bread?
When trying to be healthier, your first thought might be swapping out some of the foods you regularly eat for healthier versions. The grocery store aisles are filled with options with healthy-looking labels with lots of phrases like “clean” and “gluten-free” plastered over the packaging. It can be hard to know what the best option is to follow a healthy diet.
For the approximately one in 100 people who are affected by celiac disease, eating gluten causes the body to mount an immune response that damages the villi in the small intestine. Even the tiniest amount of gluten can cause damage in someone with celiac disease, so it’s very important to stay away from gluten entirely. For a small additional portion of the population, non-celiac gluten sensitivity may mean that cutting out gluten is helpful to reduce symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue.
If you have Celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it’s important to understand if products have gluten in them. Look for a third-party certification and a certified gluten-free mark. You can also look for words including “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “without gluten.” All of these terms are regulated by the FDA, which means manufacturers have to comply with the gluten-free definition of less than 20 ppm of gluten.
Most of the population can eat gluten regularly with no problems because the body doesn’t see gluten as a threat. But for them, following a gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily healthier.
It all depends on what you choose to eat in place of gluten-containing foods. It still may be helpful though to vary the types of grains eaten, some with gluten and some without, since wheat has been bred to contain more gluten over the past several decades and because wheat is in so many processed foods.
In general, it’s important to avoid highly processed foods whether they have gluten or not. Highly processed gluten-free foods are often high in added sugars and refined flours void of fiber.
In place of wheat, barley, and rye, choose gluten-free whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat as well as starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and winter squashes like butternut, acorn, and spaghetti. These foods provide necessary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Just remember portion control with any starchy foods if you’re trying to manage weight—they are all high in calories! When looking at a nutrition label for grains and starchy foods, check out the first ingredient and look for the word “whole” to help increase fiber and nutrient content.
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About the Author
Heather Klug, MEd RD is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women's Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.