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Slices of Sound Advice

Slices of Sound Advice

Our gluten conversation continues with Consumer Reports weighing in on the topic. Last fall, the independent research organization distilled its survey of 1,000 American consumers and 81 gluten-free products into six sound conclusions.
1.) Gluten-free isn’t more nutritious (and may be less so)

Eliminating gluten, unguided by a nutritionist, often means cutting out foods with valuable nutrients, which leads to diet deficiencies. Unlike their wheat counterparts, many gluten-free foods aren’t enriched or fortified with nutrients like folic acid and iron. Ditching gluten often means adding sugar, sodium and fat to make up for the missing “oomph,” additions that add up: a GF bagel for breakfast and two slices of GF bread at lunch translates into 10 to 15 additional grams of fat.

2.) You’ll probably increase your exposure to arsenic

News to us: About half of the gluten-free products tested by Consumer Reports contained rice in some form (rice flour, etc.), and rice carries measurable levels of arsenic, including inorganic arsenic (a carcinogen). Despite the ever-increasing prevalence of GF foods without rice, most still rely on rice. A 2014 Spanish study of adults with celiac disease found that their diets contained nearly 10 times the level of inorganic arsenic as is considered safe.

3.) You might gain weight

Despite the pervasive perception that going gluten-free will lead to weight loss, the opposite is often true. A review of studies on nutrition and celiac disease in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that a GF diet “seems to increase the risk of overweight or obesity” due to the fact that such foods can contain more calories, sugars and fats. Reports of slimming down can be contributed to watching calories, eating less processed food or sweets or cutting starchy foods like pasta.

4.) You’ll pay more

Across the board (minus cereal), Consumer Reports found that gluten-free foods were more expensive – usually double, sometimes more. Why so spendy? For large manufacturers, the costs incurred by certification and labeling regulations translate into higher price tags.

5.) You might miss a serious health condition

See a specialist and get a blood test before your eliminate gluten from your diet because it may not be the root of your problems; after the short-term placebo effect wears off, your symptoms may return, masking other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. A low FODMAPs diet, mentioned last week in reference to the New Yorker article, may be what your body needs, but following such a diet is complicated and requires working with a specialist/nutritionist.

6.) You might still be eating gluten, anyway

A fraction of gluten-free products tested still contained gluten due to cross-contamination in factories (use of same equipment) or in fields (wheat grown alongside other grains). The FDA’s limit of less than 20 parts per million of gluten allows malt(barley)-based ingredients to slide by, as can be the case with GF chips and energy bars. Scour the ingredients list or, to ensure a product is completely gluten-free, call the manufacturer.


With these findings in mind, Consumer Reports offers “a commonsense way to go gluten-free,”
a if-you-must-at-least-be-healthy guide:

Get your grains:

Don’t cut out whole grains like millet, quinoa and teff.

Shop the grocery store perimeter:

Stick to naturally gluten-free whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meat, fish, most dairy, legumes and nuts.

Read the label:

Eat less packaged foods with refined rice or potato flours; keep an eye on sugar fat and sodium levels.


For further reading on the gluten-free topic, check out the fascinating article, “Redefining Bread,” by the Bread Lab folks, the research group mentioned last week. The Huffington Post piece asks the fundamental question,“What do we actually mean when we say ‘bread’?”To approach an answer, authors Bethany Econopouly and Dr. Stephen Jones call for bread to be categorized like juice or cheese according to deviation from a core definition. For instance, juice becomes a “drink,” “beverage,” or “cocktail” when less than 100% of vegetable or fruit juice is used. “Behind every machine-sliced sandwich bread or carefully crafted artisan loaf is a simple question of language,” they write. We thoroughly support redefining bread to better distinguish what we bake and what gets shelved.