Navigating Gluten Confusion; Why low carb/gluten free isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

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In 2018 while launching a line of hand blended herbal teas, I got feedback from a panel of buyers from the Portland New Seasons Market chain. They liked my label, but strongly advised that I add a large stamp with the words “gluten free”.

Really? I asked in surprise, isn’t it a given? Apparently either way, it doesn’t matter. The gluten free label boosts sales of everything from water to toothpaste.

Gluten-free is big business, but not because it’s healthy. Although more than 20% of Americans follow a low carb diet, unless you’re among the 1% of the population with celiac disease, you may be missing the mark.

When you cut out whole wheat and grains, you eliminate a major source of the one crucial nutrient we’re most deficient in, fiber.

In fact, most the of the symptoms associated with whole grain gluten consumption are the result of a gut imbalance caused by…you guessed, low fiber and whole grain intake.

Let’s break it down: gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, is a serious problem people with conditions like celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. But here’s the kicker—unless you fall into that tiny percentage, avoiding gluten isn’t doing you any favors.

Instead, limiting complex carbs, like those found in whole grains, can have some unintended consequences. For starters, gluten-containing whole grains are a fantastic source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. By cutting them out, you’re missing out on some serious nutritional perks.

But that’s not all. Research suggests that avoiding gluten can throw your gut microbiome out of whack, leading to imbalances that can affect everything from digestion to mood. In addition to the higher price tag, gluten free treats often contain extra sugar.

I know, it’s confusing – how can the most popular diet, the low-carb, gluten-free craze be so misleading?

Contrary to popular belief, gluten-containing foods offer many of the health benefits the standard American diet is lacking:

  1. Nutrient-Packed Whole Grains: Grains like wheat, barley, and rye, rich in gluten, are packed with essential nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and minerals, supporting overall health.
  2. Heart Health: Whole grains containing gluten have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease due to their cholesterol-lowering and blood pressure-regulating properties.
  3. Weight Management: Despite misconceptions, gluten-containing whole grains can aid in weight management by promoting satiety and curbing cravings.
  4. Gut Health: For most, gluten is easily digestible and may even support a healthy gut microbiome by providing fuel for beneficial bacteria.
  5. Brain Function: The complex carbohydrates in gluten-containing grains provide steady energy for the brain, supporting cognitive function and mood stability.
  6. Bone Health: Fortified gluten-containing grains contribute to bone health with essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.

So before jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, consider the array of health benefits gluten-containing foods offer. From supporting digestion to promoting heart and brain health, gluten can be a valuable addition to a balanced diet.

On a personal note, my recent Savor the Mediterreanean Diet workshop was so much fun I’ll be making it a monthly event!

So if you’re in Capitola or nearby, I hope you’ll join me at a future event!

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