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Have you ever been fooled by ‘Big Food?’

I still remember a young family that came to me with a gluten-intolerant child. Because the child couldn’t digest gluten, it would make him, very, very sick.

They were frustrated because they were already following a gluten-free diet, yet they were still overweight, and they were all still craving sugar. I felt for them because they were doing their best to find better health for their family. As we started digging deeper into their food intake, I realized this family had fallen for the No. 1 gluten-free myth.

What was the myth? It’s that gluten-free means a product is healthy. It doesn’t. In fact, neither does fat-free, sugar-free or low calorie. However, if you were to decide this based on most food packaging, you’d probably be a little confused by what I just said. Food companies spend millions of dollars on marketing to make a product look delicious and appear to be healthy. Often, they are riding the current “health craze” by using pictures and words that people associate with healthy such as the gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, etc.

A label with claims such as gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Pop quiz ... what’s healthier: a cupcake or a gluten-free cupcake? I’ll give you a hint, it’s a trick question like “what’s heavier a pound of gold or a pound of feathers?”

To keep it simple, if food is packaged or processed, it’s not as healthy as the whole food you could be eating. Food companies have a 3-point compass when it comes to ingredients: sugar, fat and salt. For example, if you are loving sugar-free products, you are more than likely taking in more fat. If you take a good-tasting ingredient out like sugar or fat, then you need another one in its place to keep the product tasting good so people keep buying it. It’s these three ingredients we crave, thanks to the dopamine in our brains.

Another problem with processed foods is that they are engineered by food scientists to be desirable and addictive. The processed carbohydrates, fats and sugars send your blood sugar sky-high, cause insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes, and trigger high triglycerides. Another nasty by-product of all these effects is the inflamed, visceral fat that begins to accumulate around your abdomen or around your organs. This is the most dangerous type of body-fat.

More and more grocery and health-food stores stock gluten-free products, and that’s great news for people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or those who simply feel better on a reduced-gluten diet. But don’t let the label fool you.

Whenever possible, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats, pastured eggs, nuts and seeds is far more nutritious for you than swapping out your wheat bread for gluten-free bread. Minimizing your processed food and knowing how much you’re eating is much more powerful to your health than finding the same processed snack in its gluten-free version.

Fresh, whole food. It’s that simple!

Fran Sutherlin is a local registered dietitian, health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition, which has offices in Durango and Bayfield. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.