Is gluten free food health food?

A gluten free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease, and it’s also become rather trendy. But can we really call gluten free food health food? “A gluten free cake is still a cake,” explains Kathryn Elliott, and cakes are high in fat and sugar whether or not they’re gluten free. In this podcast Kathryn, a nutritionist who writes about cookery and health, gives us some practical advice about how to choose healthy gluten free food.


Click Play to hear Kathryn Elliott on how to choose healthier gluten free food (12min25).
If you’d like to download the file please right click here and choose to save the file.

Kathryn explains that when you’re choosing food you need to consider several things. These include how much fat, sugar, vitamins and minerals are in a food, and the food’s GI. GI is the glyceamic index of a food, and it tells us how quickly the energy from carbohydrates is released. Low GI foods release their energy more slowly than high GI foods. “Low GI foods keep you fuller for longer,” says Kathryn, so they’re especially helpful for weight management. There are low GI gluten free products available, which are a better choice than products made with a basic starch-based gluten free flour. In addition Kathryn recommends several gluten free wholegrains that have medium-low GIs.

It's gluten free, but does that really make it a health food?

The additions that make gluten free products low GI include things like psyllium and almond meal, and some of these additions contribute to making the food healthier in other ways. Psyllium is excellent soluble fibre, and almond meal provides omega-6 fatty acids. You can also make changes to lower the glycaemic load of an entire meal if you need to compensate for using some high GI ingredients. Kathryn has some wonderful practical suggestions for how to do this using things like legumes, meat, vegetables and salad. And these suggestions aren’t only useful if you have to eat gluten free – anyone can use these ideas to make their meals healthier.

If you’re looking for more practical ideas after the podcast, you can find out more about Kathryn’s healthy eating ideas over at her blog Limes and Lycopene.

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5 thoughts on “Is gluten free food health food?

  1. Interesting interview and article, gluten free does indeed appear to be often marketed as ‘healthier’. It’s a good reminder for those of us who need to choose the gluten free option due to irritable bowel and other symptoms caused by gluten intolerance.

    Thank you.

  2. I think it’s a great reminder that the ‘healthiness’ of food is relative, not only varying between individuals, but also between different times for the same individual. For example, people with cystic fibrosis have to load on as much salt as possible, people with illnesses that cause sudden weight loss often need to eat lots of calories, and sugar can be life-saving for type-1 diabetics at certain moments. Great work on delving further into the throw-away ‘health food’ label.

  3. Interesting article Arwen. There appears to be a belief in society that if a product is labelled ‘(something) free’ then that ‘something’ must be bad for everyone. For example, ‘gluten free’ must be a heathy alternative, and not just for people with coeliac disease. Keep up the good work!

  4. @Lizzy Nice to meet you Lizzy, and I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.

    @wonkyj Lovely examples you’ve got there of how relative health can be. I didn’t know about people with cystic fibrosis needing to eat lots of salt, although I suppose it makes sense if they’re losing it through faulty ion channels.

    @emmalawrance You’ve put your finger on it there with the ‘something’ in ‘something free’ being seen as a problem. I think it fits in with Pollan’s idea of the Ominvore’s Dilemma – we humans are very unsure of what we should eat.

  5. Wonkyj that is a great point – it’s easy to assume that a “healthy diet” is the same for everyone, but as you say that ain’t always true. Another example would be in sports where after there are times when *high* GI is often exactly what you need.

    You really do have to work out what’s right for you.

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