5 Biggest Gluten-free Myths

Shine's going gluten-free this week for National Celiac Awareness month. We're serving up smart ideas, solutions, stories, and of course, super-delicious recipes to help you eat sans gluten--without feeling like you're missing a thing.

The gluten-free diet has some myths attached to it that are as sticky as the forbidden protein itself. Since I've been eating gluten-free since 1996, I've seen several gluten-free myths based on half-baked facts persist over the years. Here are the five top gluten-free myths and the raw truth that, hopefully, will blast them into oblivion.

MYTH: Gluten-free foods are healthy.
This may be loosely translated as, "It's okay that I just ate the whole package of cookies, they're gluten-free!"

FACT: Not always.
Gluten-free cakes, cookies, pizzas and other processed foods usually contain refined gluten-free flours, sugars, and fats, but they may even contain more of these than regular baked goods to compensate for the different texture and taste. Basically, junk food will only be "healthy" when you eat it while riding your unicorn.

MYTH: A gluten-free diet will help you lose weight.

FACT: Not necessarily. It depends on a few factors:
Scenario #1: Healthy weight gain
If someone has a condition like celiac disease, and they weren't absorbing food due to gluten damaging their intestines, then they might actually gain a healthy amount of weight due to the healing of their gut on a gluten-free diet.

Scenario #2: Unhealthy weight gain
If you swap out gluten-containing wheat-based pizza crust, cookies, cakes, etc. for the gluten-free versions of the same junk foods, you may be healing your intestines, but absorbing even more sugar, fats and refined flours. More sugar, fat, and flour = more calories.

Scenario #3: Healthy weight loss
If you trade in your Standard American Diet of processed foods for naturally gluten-free foods such as lean meats, fruit, vegetables and gluten-free whole grains, then you may lose weight and keep it off due to better digestion, better nutrients, and less inflammation.

Remember: every body is unique, and one magic bullet for weight loss doesn't exist.

MYTH: The gluten-free diet is just a fad.

FACT: This is not Atkins for the new millenium.
It might be just a trend for some, but for millions of people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, eating gluten-free is prescription that may save their lives and drastically improve the quality of their health. Why? Gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley, causes an autoimmune response in people with celiac disease. This affects about 1% of the population, which equals around 3 million Americans, and 97% of these people are still undiagnosed. Aside from this, gluten sensitivity has finally been recognized as a real and separate health problem, but there is still no way to test for it and very little the medical community will comment on until more studies are done.

MYTH: People who claim to get sick from trace amounts of gluten are overreacting.

FACT: We're not just being drama queens.
Patients with celiac disease are cautioned by their gastroenterologists to avoid even trace amounts of gluten. Just a crumb of bread can set off a violent physical reaction in some celiac patients. Like mini-landmines, one crouton in a salad, removing a bun from a burger, or shared utensils with crumbs can set off uncomfortable and varied symptoms that can last for days. Not everyone seems to be super sensitive, but it is recommended to err on the side of caution.

Until more studies are done, the verdict is still out on how careful those with gluten sensitivities need to be. For now, doctors recommend patients with gluten sensitivity keep a strict gluten-free diet.

MYTH: Ancient grains, like spelt, are gluten-free.

FACT: Just cause it's old, doesn't mean it's safe.
Sorry, spelt and wheat are cousins, which means spelt contains gluten. Confusion exists due to some people with wheat sensitivities being able to tolerate spelt, but people with broader gluten issues need to avoid these grains.

What other big myths have you run across being gluten-free?

As one of the first food bloggers, Kelly Courson has been sharing her gluten-free adventures on her award-winning blog Celiac Chicks since 2003. Get her best gluten-free pizza recipe and sign up for her latest gluten-free tips and tricks.