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What’s better, a cupcake or a gluten-free cupcake?

Should you be eating a gluten-free diet?

Maybe you are curious to know if it will help you feel better. Gluten is probably the most vilified food protein in America. About 5% of the American population follow a gluten-free diet and many do it because they notice a difference in their health from increased energy to less digestive pain and discomfort.

So, what is gluten? Gluten is a group of indigestible proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Before jumping to the “indigestible” part in that statement, remember that gluten contains whole grains and provides a valuable source of fiber, B-vitamins and minerals whereas many gluten-free products lack these important nutrients. The No. 1 dietary deficiency found in people following a gluten-free diet is fiber. The average American gets about 13 grams of fiber per day from their diet, while the recommendation per day is 25 grams for women and 35 grams for men.

So, what’s the ultimate gluten-free myth? It’s that a gluten-free diet will ensure a healthy diet. It doesn’t, not even the slightest. In fact, neither does fat-free, sugar-free or low-calorie. A label with claims such as gluten-free (or any other “free”) doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Just like swapping your whole-wheat bread to gluten-free bread doesn’t ensure health. 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?” Well, a cupcake is a cupcake, gluten-free or not.

To keep it simple, if food is packaged or processed, it’s not as healthy as the whole food you could be eating. So, if you want to follow a gluten-free diet and make it a healthy diet, put down the gluten-free crackers and cook up some healthy rice, quinoa, buckwheats or gluten-free oats. These are all naturally gluten-free foods that nourish your body and allow you to feel better.

If you have celiac disease, following a gluten-free diet is a necessity. That’s because your small intestines cannot absorb gluten, which causes a cascade of problems beginning with various intestinal issues but can also include many other organs in the body feeling “sick.” One thing to keep in mind is that an estimated 83% of people who suffer from celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. So, they are experiencing these same issues, but they don’t know what’s causing it ... and cannot make the changes needed for them to feel better.

If you are tempted to try a gluten-free diet to see if it decreases your digestive discomfort or joint pain, or increases your energy levels, I encourage you to do so. Just remember that simply eating gluten-free noodles, gluten-free bread, gluten-free crackers – you get the idea – is not the gluten-free experience that will lead you to looking and feeling your best.

Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, 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 and offers virtual-coaching options. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.