How healthy is gluten free?

How healthy is gluten free?

Have we created a gluten-free monster? There’s no denying GF foods are popping up everywhere. Chelsea Clinton’s nuptials received nearly as much attention as her much-discussed GF-wedding cake. Other A-listers such as Anne Hathaway, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mary Louise Parker have also cut gluten which has media outlets buzzing about the “latest diet trend.”

On a recent episode of the Today Show, Erin McKenna, owner of the popular New York-based vegan bakery BabyCakes said, “celebrities are going gluten free because their nutritionists are learning that actually removing gluten from your diet is a key to weight loss.”

Such information may be spurring more non-celiacs to jump on the GF bandwagon. Packaged Facts, a market-research firm based in Rockville, Md., put sales for all GF food and beverages at $1.6 billion last year, and projects the market will reach $2.6 billion by 2012.

But can eliminating gluten really help people shed pounds? And, more importantly, are these foods healthier?

Actually, it’s more likely that the exact opposite is true. To account for loss in flavor, many GF-packaged foods are higher in carbs, sugar, fat and calories than their regular counterparts. “They also tend to be lower in fiber, vitamins and iron,” said Shelley Case, a registered dietician on the medical advisory board of the Celiac Disease Foundation. “Gluten free does not mean nutritious.”

According to research from The University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center, it’s not uncommon for those who switch to a GF diet to gain weight because GF foods often have more calories, fat per serving and a denser texture which results in smaller recommended portion sizes.

While the growth in this category and the rapid success of new GF products hitting the market is great for those 3-million Americans who are gluten intolerant, opting for GF options to be “healthier” or “lose weight” is some serious food for thought.

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