Friday, February 28, 2014

Gluten-Free Eaters Still Need to Read the Label - guest post by Mira Dessy

I first met Mira Dessy at the Weston A. Price conference in 2011. She is warm, friendly and extremely knowledgeable about what is in our food. She teaches people how to read food product labels. Her book, The Pantry Principle, came out in 2013 and she asked me to review it. 

I was happy to review it but I didn't think I would learn anything new. Since I make very careful choices around food, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about what was in my food. I found her book thoroughly researched and magnetic. In fact, I did not want to put it down! 

I was surprised when I learned a whole lot of new information especially around product ingredients that are less than transparent like "natural flavors". What I learned was that I could not trust anything that had natural flavors.

Mira graciously offered to write a guest post about why Gluten-Free Eaters Still Need To Read The Label.

Gluten-Free Eaters Still Need To Read The Label by Mira Dessy

More and more people are finding that they do better on a gluten-free diet. This may, in part, be due to the overabundance of gluten in the modern diet. After all, if you start your morning with a bagel or a bowl of cereal, follow it up with a mid-morning muffin as a snack, have a sandwich for lunch, a cookie for your afternoon snack, and a bowl of pasta for dinner you've consumed a considerable amount of gluten, and simple starches. Combined with the changes in our modern, hybridized, high-gluten wheat (since most gluten eaters tend to eat wheat) this can have an overwhelming effect on your system and may even potentially lead to a sensitivity to either wheat or gluten.

For those who need to avoid gluten, and the grains it comes from (barley, rye, wheat, and spelt), it has become much easier to enjoy many traditionally wheat-based foods such as cereals, crackers, and breads.  Amazingly, there are more grains that do not contain gluten than there are those that do. Some of the more common ones include rice, amaranth, oats, and teff.  It is important to note that although oats do not inherently contain gluten, they are often grown near, stored and/or transported with gluten. A person with a severe reaction to gluten should purchase certified gluten-free oats.  

Many companies are catering to this growing segment of gluten-free eaters and creating products that the consumer can enjoy.  Unfortunately many of these products, although gluten-free, are not great choices as they are often formulated with unhealthy ingredients.  They are also typically very low in fiber and therefore don't support the health of our gut.  After all, processed foods are still processed, even if they are gluten-free.  This makes these processed items a less-than-optimal choice for a balanced and healthy nutritional plan.

Just a few of the items often found in gluten-free processed foods can include:

  • Canola oil – one of the most genetically modified crops, this highly refined, bleached, and deodorized oil is not a healthy choice.
  • Corn products – dextrose, corn starch, ascorbic acid, and a wide variety of other items all made from corn are not a good choice due to the fact that corn is another highly genetically modified crop.
  • Starches – these are non-nutritious refined carbohydrates, such as potato starch or tapioca starch, which are used to help balance the flours; this is because gluten-free flours don't have as much “sticky” factor.
  • Soy – also highly genetically modified, soy is also phytoestrogenic (meaning it provides plant-based estrogens) and goitrogenic (meaning it can have a negative effect on thyroid health).    
  • Gums – xanthan gum and others are used, again, as a binding or thickening agent.  Many of these gums have the potential to cause intestinal discomfort and, if possible, it's best to avoid them.
  • Sugar – frequently gluten-free products may come with added sugars to make up for the change in mouthfeel that happens when we switch from gluten to non-gluten grains.  Added sugars may have a negative impact on blood sugar, digestion, and overall health.
In order to avoid these negative ingredients and to enjoy healthy and delicious gluten-free foods, it is important to learn how to read the label.

Look for products that are made from whole grains if possible (not all gluten-free products are available with whole grain flours since the extra fiber can affect the rise).  Choose items which have as few ingredients as possible and all of those from whole foods rather than chemicals or additives.  Remember, just because it's gluten-free doesn't mean it's not highly processed.

Mira Dessy is the author of The Pantry Principle: how to read the label and understand what's really in your food

Mira is a Certified Nutrition Educator and a Real Food Advocate and speaks frequently on how to navigate the grocery store’s mammoth packaged food stock, to decipher confusing food labels, and to choose healthy foods. Her motto is “Eat well to be well.”
She can be reached at:

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