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Is Gluten Free the Way to Be?

By Amanda Turner MS, RD | June 10, 2015

What Exactly Is Gluten?

Gluten refers to the naturally occurring proteins found in the endosperm of wheat, barley, and rye. The endosperm is the grain's midsection and contains most of the grain’s carbohydrates and proteins. Gluten can also be added into processed foods to improve the protein content, taste and texture of the product.

Gluten Free Diets

Whole grains are an important component in a healthy, well balanced diet, but lately gluten-free diets have gained attention as a quick way to shed some pounds. Only about 1 in 130 Americans suffer from an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease that cause damage to the lining of the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients. Unless you are truly allergic to gluten, choosing a gluten-free diet will not give you any additional health benefits. A diet rich in whole grains provides your body with an array of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and helps control blood sugar. Most importantly, gluten-free doesn’t always mean “low calorie” or “healthy.” Many gluten-free products add extra calories and sugar to make up for the taste and texture found in whole grain foods. If you are trying to lose weight, cutting whole grains out of your diet isn’t the way to go. Instead, focus on a balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, and exercise.

Is A Gluten-Free Diet Healthier?

Whole grains, such as complex carbohydrates, contain fiber and other nutrients that can reduce the risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. There are many foods that are naturally gluten-free (think quinoa, rice, potatoes, meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and fish) that provide your body with fiber, vitamins and minerals in their natural state. Eliminating gluten from your diet can lead to dietary deficiencies if done inappropriately. A majority of gluten-free products on the market attempt to mimic the texture and flavor of gluten by adding sugar, fat, and sodium to their products. Many gluten-free products actually contain more calories than the gluten-containing version. For example, Whole Foods gluten-free blueberry muffin contains 370 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 31 grams of sugar. Walmart’s blueberry muffin contains 340 calories, 17 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar. Take a look at Udi’s gluten-free bagels that have 290 calories and 9 grams of fat, whereas Thomas’s plain bagel has 270 calories and only 2 grams of fat. My point? Gluten-free is not synonymous with “healthy”. A healthy gluten-free lifestyle is easily achieved by incorporating naturally occurring gluten-free foods into your diet and forgoing the processed, high calorie “gluten-free” products you see advertised on the market.

A Gluten-Free Kitchen Sustaining a gluten-free lifestyle begins by stocking your kitchen full of gluten-free options, making cooking easier and more convenient. Here are some go-to gluten-free options to have at home:

Brown rice
Tapioca or brown rice flour
Vinegars Low-fat milk
Herbs & spices
Olive oil
Fresh and frozen veggies
Fresh and frozen fruits
Canned or fresh fish
Fresh poultry

Gluten Free Crock Pot Onion and Pepper Teriyaki Chicken
2 lbs chicken breasts
½ cup tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
¼ cup sugar ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup chicken broth
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
½ tsp ground pepper
½ red or white onion, chopped
1 red or green pepper, chopped
Steamed brown rice for serving


1. Place chicken in the bottom of slow cooker. Pour ½ cup chicken broth over chicken.

2. In a bowl, combine together tamari, coconut sugar, rice wine vinegar, garlic, ginger, and pepper. Pour over chicken. Place the pepper and onion on top, cover with lid. Cook on low for 6 – 7 hours or until chicken is easy to shred.

3. During the last hour of cooking, take chicken out of slow cooker and shred with two forks. Place shredded chicken back in slow cooker for remaining hour, mixing it with sauce.

4. Serve shredded chicken over steamed rice, garnish with green onion and sesame seeds, if desired. Enjoy!