Gluten-Free Label Reading: The Basics

Written by Lynette Wuebker

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics

As a college student, I am always looking for quick, easy, and healthy meals that won’t break the bank. One of my go-tos this month has been Sweet Pork Stir Fry. Here’s the catch, 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which means that I have to eat gluten-free. So how do I take a recipe that seems to be full of gluten and enjoy it? Gluten-free label reading has become my best friend as I walk through the grocery store aisles each week, and I promise it’s not as daunting as it seems!

The first thing that I look for on any package is the little black “Certified GF” stamp. If I see this, I know that the product was carefully produced so that it won’t contain any gluten. If I can’t find this, the next step is to pick up the box and start reading. Since some products have ingredient lists longer than my arm, I look for a few keywords: wheat, rye, barley, malt, brewer’s yeast, and oats. If I find any form of these words on the ingredient list, I won’t be buying it. For example, most soy sauces contain wheat as a thickener, so I have to be extra careful when looking to find gluten-free soy sauce. If I’m unable to determine if a product is gluten-free, then I don’t buy it. However, I am able to find a wide variety of foods that are gluten-free.

Click here for more information on gluten-free label reading.

Should I Follow a Gluten Free Diet?

As a dietetic intern, I get frequent questions about gluten free diets. Most of these questions have been prompted by articles on Facebook, websites and celebrity’s books. I can’t believe all the claims being made for gluten free diets such as, gluten free diets help with weight loss, increase energy and concentration, improve autism and rheumatoid arthritis, and in general are supposed to be healthier.

What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. Food we consume everyday like cookies, cakes, pizza, pasta, cereals and breads have gluten in them.

Approximately 1% of the population has a medical condition called celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine lining and  prevents absorption of nutrients from foods that are consumed. The damage is due to a reaction of eating gluten.

Most of us will not benefit from a gluten free diet. There is no current evidence that eating a gluten free diet will help with weight loss or is a healthier diet in general. In addition, not consuming these food products means you may be lacking essential nutrients like iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate and  fiber in your diet.

Interestingly, research has shown that gluten free products are higher in fat. Looking at the nutrition of a regular vs. a gluten free food product; 1 slice of regular multigrain bread has 120 calories, 1 gram of total fat and has 12% of your daily fiber intake and 15% of your daily intake of iron (based on 2,000 calorie diet). Gluten free multigrain bread has 80 calories, 3.5 grams of total fat, 4 % of your daily fiber intake and 2 % of your daily iron intake.

The cost of eating gluten free products is significantly higher. Gluten free products cost 242% more than regular products and lack variety. The graph below shows the food cost comparison of regular items vs. gluten free items.

Gluten Chart

So before you consider switching to a gluten free diet, consider saving money and eating non- gluten free foods that provide you with excellent nutrition and health benefits. Also, if you have symptoms of celiac disease (gas, bloating, diarrhea, weight loss/gain, fatigue) contact your healthcare provider to set up an appointment for appropriate screening.

The Mythbusters poster was created by an ISU nutrition class. Let’s bust the myths!

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True or False? 

Gluten free diet is a healthier diet for everyone.

Gluten free products have fewer calories.

Gluten containing grains contribute to more than 75% of typical daily grain consumption.

Celiac disease is a food allergy.

Celiac disease is easy to diagnosis.

Gluten free diet can compromise gut immunity.

Check back for the answers Tuesday, June 18, 2013 on our facebook page!  https://www.facebook.com/spendsmarteatsmart
Abbie Brekken, ISU Dietetic Intern
Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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