Eating Healthfully When Gluten-Free
By Lindsay Marr, B.S. and Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN
Are you eating enough folic acid? Is your gluten-free bread enriched? Are all gluten-free muffins created equal? Last Sunday, I learned the answer was NO. I had the opportunity to attend a presentation hosted by the Westchester Celiac Sprue Support Group. The main presenter was Cheryl Leslie, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and mother of two children, both with celiac disease. I learned a few very important tips to ensure a gluten-free diet was free of nutrient deficiencies.
When Comparing Labels:
Cheryl explained that she maintains a gluten-free household for her children and while she is constantly on the lookout for great gluten-free finds, she always inspects the nutrition labels. One of my favorite parts of the presentation was Cheryl’s breakdown of the nutrition facts label and her explanation of the steps she takes to ensure that she is comparing apples to apples, not apples to oranges. Let me explain:
- Review the grams of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, and calories of three gluten-free blueberry muffins.
- Note the weight of the products, as well as the serving sizes.
- Identify if the muffins were of equal weights, how the nutrition components would change and what the facts would be.
- Hint: Just because something is less in sugar and fat doesn’t mean it is better. It may be only due to the fact it is smaller.
- Compare the nutrition facts of the three muffins if they were the same weight and determine which muffin you prefer.
Nutritional Shortcomings of GFD:
Cheryl then went on to discuss possible deficiencies in the GFD. Did you know the majority of flour sold in our country is enriched with vitamins and nutrients? According to the FDA, for a food to be labeled as “enriched” with a specific nutrient, it must “contain at least 10% more of the Daily Value of that nutrient than a food of the same type that is not enriched”[i]. In the case of flour, to be considered an “enriched flour” the FDA requires the flour to contain “specified amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and iron”[i].
The enrichment of wheat flour provides a good portion, if not the majority, of these nutrients in the average American’s diet. Gluten-free foods, however, do not require enrichment because they are considered to be supplemental. Therefore, by eliminating gluten from our diets and, in turn, eliminating enriched flours, we could potentially be missing out on the following key nutrients: folate, iron, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin.
Here is a list of dietary sources containing the 5 nutrients most likely to be missing when maintaining a gluten-free diet:
As a nutrition professional (future-RD), and someone with celiac disease, Cheryl reminded me how it is vital to maintain a balanced diet filled with fresh and whole foods. And as the chart above shows, we can get our nutrients from fresh and non-packaged foods.
Having to eat gluten-free can easily cause a person to feel restricted and may even cause people to reach for more of the packaged goods. It’s easy to think “I can’t eat my favorite bread anymore, so I deserve this gluten-free cookie.” While many of us love these convenient foods, it is important to compliment them with wholesome fresh foods for an optimal dietary intake.
As the saying goes, everything in moderation!! Educate yourself about reading the food label, not only for ingredients that may contain gluten, but also for missing vitamins and minerals, as well as, the weight of a serving size. And, of course, be sure to eat fresh foods too.
i “Are Foods That Contain Added Nutrients Considered “enriched”?” FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm194348.htm>.