Are Gluten-Free Substitutes REALLY Better For You?

Written by Sue Mosebar

Gluten-Free Substitutes

As I was growing up, my mom used to bake. A lot. When baking bread, she ground the wheat herself, used her own sourdough starter, and put lots of love into every loaf. My brother and I would often come home from school to feast on a slice of warm bread, fresh out of the oven, and slathered with rich, creamy butter. Ah… to have the metabolism of a 15 year old again…

So I hope you’ll understand my hesitancy to jump on the bandwagon when I started hearing about the “gluten-free movement.” What? Say no to mom’s bread?!

Yet it turns out, for many people, going gluten free, or at least cutting back, can be a good idea. Especially when it comes to increasing nutrient density of food, dropping fat weight, and looking and feeling lighter and healthier.

Fortunately, you don’t have to give up fresh, out-of-the-oven goodness to do so! Here’s the skinny on going gluten free (along with some delicious gluten-free substitutes).

What Is Gluten?

First off, gluten is found in bread, pastries, pastas, crackers, cereal, and the like. But what is it? Quite simply, it’s a mixture of proteins found in wheat and other similar grains like barley, rye, and some oats (there are gluten-free varieties). It’s hidden in lots of common foods as it’s used to improve texture. So even if you think you’re not eating it, you might be. It’s found in a list of unexpected foods, including:

    • • Soups
    • • Sauces
    • • Soy sauce (and other condiments)
    • • Salad dressing
    • • Food coloring
    • • Processed meats
    • • Cheeses
    • • Candies like jelly beans and licorice
    • • Coffee creamer
    • • Brewer’s yeast
    • • And more…

    You can find gluten-free versions of many of the above, but it’s very important to read labels. You will need to navigate carefully to completely eliminate gluten. And in truth, if it comes in a box, it probably isn’t any healthier than the gluten-full version. It might even be worse!

    Who Should Go Gluten Free?

    There is no question: folks with celiac disease should always avoid gluten! If that’s you, you probably know who you are and don’t need to read this article. (We could have interviewed you as an expert!) Roughly one percent of the population has celiac disease, which is an autoimmune response to gluten. It causes havoc in the intestines, so nutrients aren’t absorbed as they should be. This leads to big problems like vitamin deficiencies and unhealthy, dramatic weight loss.

    Other people have a genuine wheat food allergy, which can cause hives, digestion issues from cramps to vomiting to diarrhea, runny nose and sneezing, headaches, and more. These folks should also clearly avoid the allergen.

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    Yet the majority of people who avoid gluten are what’s known as “gluten sensitive” or “intolerant.” These people often complain of bloating, digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, inflammation, or skin breakouts when they eat gluten-containing foods.  Quite simply, they say they feel a lot better on a gluten-free diet. Estimates on the number of people who are gluten sensitive varies widely from a very small percentage to up to 20 million. There’s no real scientific consensus at this time.

    What about the rest of us?

    According to a 2015 Gallup Poll, 21% of Americans claim they include gluten-free foods in their nutrition plans. Are there good reasons to avoid gluten even if you aren’t celiac, allergic to wheat, or gluten intolerant?

    For a good number of people, the answer can be yes. Why? Because they simply feel better when they avoid gluten-containing foods. And this type of diet can help with weight loss IF the replacements are NOT loaded with simple sugars and other unhealthy ingredients.  In addition, a number of gluten-free substitutes offer higher nutritional values and greater amounts of protein than wheat products.

    The Lowdown on Gluten-Free Substitutes

    As mentioned above, reaching for the gluten-free variety of processed cookies, candies, and cakes isn’t going to help you reach your weight-loss goals, get healthier, or provide the nutrition your body needs. So look for quality ingredients, prepared with love. Here are the good, the not so good, and pretty awful options you can find:

    • Good Gluten-Free Substitutes (Go for it!)
      • • Teff
      • • Quinoa
      • • Amaranth
      • • Buckwheat
      • • Chia
      • • Flax
      • • Nut flours (almond, coconut, hazelnut, etc.)
      • • Bean flours (fava, garbanzo, pea, etc.)
      • • Sorghum
      • • Millet
      • • Arrowroot
      • • Mesquite
    • Not So Good (Occasionally okay or okay in smaller amounts)
      • • Brown rice
      • • Potato starch
      • • Gluten-free oats
      • • Tapioca flour
      • • Xanthan gum
    • Pretty Awful (Avoid whenever possible)
      • • Packaged pastries
      • • White rice
      • • Corn
      • • Soy

    Recipe: Juli’s Gluten-Free Flour Blend

    To save time and work every time you want to bake, here’s a fantastic baking mix that can be used as your gluten-free “all purpose flour” for pancakes, breads, muffins, and much more:

    Ingredients:

    • • 1 cup buckwheat flour
    • • 1 cup quinoa flour
    • • 1 cup brown rice flour
    • • ½ cup amaranth flour
    • • ½ cup millet (or mesquite if you can find it) flour
    • • ½ cup teff flour
    • • ½ cup potato starch flour
    • • ½ cup tapioca flour

    Directions:

    Measure out and mix all of the flours well and keep in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Use to replace an equal amount of flour listed in your favorite baking recipes.

    The Lowdown on Gluten-Free Substitutes

    Whether you’re going gluten free because of an allergy or intolerance or you just to add variety and some nutritional powerhouses to your diet, there are numerous options on the market. Many of these gluten-free substitutes offer greater amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals than traditional wheat flours, and it’s fun to experiment with the variety of tastes and textures they provide. After all, variety is the spice of life.

    Bonus Health Tip:

    While a proper diet full of healthy gluten-free substitutes is a step in the right direction, did you know there are certain “healthy” foods (including several fruits and veggies) that actually expand your waistline? In reality, eating these foods could be the difference between losing 10 – 20 pounds quickly, or it taking WEEKS to lose even a single pound.

    Do you want to lose flab SLOWER than you could be? I don’t think anybody wants that! That’s why it’s critically important that you never eat these waist-expanding “healthy” foods, EVER.

    Fortunately, we just wrote a brand new free report showing you 8 of the absolute WORST health foods for your waistline.

    ==>AVOID these fruits and veggies (they pile on BELLY FAT)

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  • zac

    It’s a proven fact: Living is deteriorating our health….The longer you live, the more illnesses attack, you.. Follow healthy diets you will earn 5 years more in bed or in a house for old , Alzheimer victims, people.

    • levinjf

      Exactly! My father born in 1900, had an instinctively healthy diet: loved fruit and vegies, never overate, never smoked or drank. His “coffee” was Postum every AM. He walked a lot. He lived longest of 4 brothers–till 90. But the last 4 years were horrible. He was in a care facility surrounded by “zombies”, as he told me–he remained mentally alert till the end. He was ready to die and was disappointed every AM to wake up alive. An older brother who lived on deli food lived to 87. I think my dad’s life style extended his life, but it extended it at the end. Right now I do as little as possible and eat what I want. I am 77 and my jogging friends are in worse condition than me. Based on my family experience, I think life duration is 85% genetic, and 15% everything else–marital status, diet, locale, exercise, etc. But the benefits of the latter are tacked on at the end, as you point out.

    • As skeptical and pessimistic as it may sound, I can’t completely disagree with you guys. Having said that, I do think that we can be more optimistic, especially considering that there has been a substantial amount of research—with much more emerging in the years to come—on healthy aging. Here’s a fantastic paper on the topic:

      Developing a new treatment paradigm for disease prevention and healthy aging

      In the paper, you’ll see a shift from the traditional low-fat, low-calorie diet and low-intensity activity guidelines to a program including DASH nutrition pattern with additional protein, higher intensity, brief aerobic training, effort-based, brief resistance training, and structured physical activity. The goal of such is to reduce body fat and central obesity while maintaining or even increasing lean body mass—a quality weight loss—while efficiently and effectively increase cardiorespiratory fitness and strength.

      The DASH nutrition pattern is quite similar to a Mediterranean-style diet, which has been shown to improve many age-related health outcomes (e.g., cardiovascular health, metabolic function, cognitive function). Here is another paper that you might find interesting:

      Nutrition and lifestyle in healthy aging: the telomerase challenge

      The great news is that we haven’t even come close to reaching the the zenith of healthy aging research; this is just the beginning. While folks are living longer, with the appropriate long-term behavior/lifestyle changes, I think we can be much more optimistic about healthy aging and quality of life as we get older.

      Coach Tim

  • Jim

    your recipe for gluten-free flour has so many names of ingredients that I have absolutely no knowledge of and I surmise I must go somewhere to the mid-east or other places to find them. I have absolutely no idea where any of your good stuff can be purchased. And those who I inquire about have no idea either.!!!!

    • Susan

      You can probably find them all through Amazon. Also, Walmart has a good variety of flours so you may be able to find some there. If you can find the grains, you can make flour with any appliance capable of chopping nuts.

  • Jill Fisher

    I think I’ll stick to my organic einkorn sourdough and starter…nothing tastes better than the real thing!