When it comes to navigating the grocery aisles on a quest for healthy food, we find ourselves, often, scratching our heads and wondering to ourselves is this actually healthy? You pick up a package, looking for familiar key words that supposedly represent the hallmarks of health such as “organic”, “raw”, “vegan”, “all natural”, “local”, and of course the ever-so-popular “gluten-free”! You feel confident that what you’re getting is good for you, but many would be surprised to find out that just because a food says gluten -free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy.
The truth is, most food companies are not in it for your health and only make foods that make them money. Afterall, most “natural” or gluten-free products weren’t even on their radar until the public started demanding it. For lack of a better term, the commercial food industry is a profit-driven, reactive animal, much like the modern healthcare industry. While one would intuitively think that our food and healthcare would focus on quality and prevention in order to produce a healthy population it’s evident that that’s not the case, which brings us back to Gluten-Free foods!
While avoiding gluten is crucial for those with celiac disease, it’s also important to know what it is, how it works, and why so many people are having reactions to it. Check out our Understanding Gluten blog for the backstory. With all that in mind, what do we do now?
Whether you’re dealing with Celiac or simply want to reduce or eliminate it from your diet here are a few facts to keep in mind when shopping gluten-free:
1. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Most foods are naturally gluten-free so you don’t have to buy those corn chips just because they say gluten-free. They already were free of gluten but check out number 2 just to be safe.
2. Many food companies use ingredients that contain gluten and there is a risk of cross-contamination if they are manufactured in the same facility as gluten-free products, so the Gluten-Free label does help ensure that there wasn’t any cross-contamination.
3. If you don’t see a Certified Gluten-Free label, don’t freak out. Many small companies are gluten-free but can’t afford the certification, so if you really like their products just give them a call. Ask about their processes to avoid gluten and even ask for any paperwork they may have to support their gluten-free claims. If they’re a local company, even better. You can probably visit them and check their stuff out in person!
4. Most gluten-free versions of gluten-containing products such as breads and baking mixes are replaced with rice and potato flours and then cut with cassava and almond flours.
5. Rice flours are high in heavy metals and should be limited or avoided, even if organic.
6. Potato flours are very high in starch and can be problematic for those sensitive to weight gain.
7. Cassava and almond flours are high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids and should be eaten in small quantities. Commercial, gluten-free products containing these flours are almost always NOT organic and contain high-levels of pesticides.
8. Coconut flours produce very dense baked goods, but overall are safer than the other choices, especially when organic.
9. Most gluten-free baked goods still contain PROCESSED ingredients and sugars. These just aren’t good for you and need to be avoided.
10. At Nate’s Raw Harvest we use a mixture of organic, unpasteurized almond flours and coconut flours for our dry baking mixes. You can check them out HERE!
Gluten doesn’t have to be the big, scary, monster that it has been made out to be. For the most part, unless you’re allergic, gluten alone isn’t really the enemy. Like any other processed food item, gluten has been through the ringer when it comes to how it is produced and packaged. If you’re experiencing sensitivities to gluten, it’s always smart to avoid it and focus on healing your gut slowly and diligently. If gluten isn’t a problem for you, I’d always suggest focusing on reading your ingredients, sticking with as much organic and sprouted options, and eating in moderation.
Reading your ingredients, as usual, is key to buying foods that are best for your health. Labels provide limited information on what we are really investing our time and money into, and it’s a safe bet that if you can make it out of box, it's best to do that as often as possible instead of buying it at the store.
If you’re struggling with gluten and are looking for better options, reading up on home recipes and taking a whack at it yourself is a guaranteed way to get in touch with what and how you’re fueling yourself. Feel free to check out our blog page to find all sorts of organic, gluten-free, processed sugar-free alternative recipes! Until next time, happy, SMART, shopping!