The New York Times reported yesterday that the era of “tough and tasteless” gluten-free foods is now behind us.
But as gluten-free foods get tastier, and more people switch to a gluten-free lifestyle, food corporations are capitalizing by slapping “gluten-free” marketing on every product they can.
“We have a funny way of turning health concerns into fads,” says Stefanie Bryn Sacks, M.S., a culinary nutritionist. “Now you have potato chips that say they’re gluten free. Well, duh. They’re from potatoes, of course they’re gluten-free.”
To help you see beyond the PR packaging, Sacks offered Well+Good readers these tips when grocery shopping:
1. Most importantly, really read the (whole) label. There aren’t many regulations on where manufacturers can put shiny “gluten-free” stickers, so it’s important to pay attention to the fine print, like where the product was made. “If you’re a true Celiac, you have to look on the back of a package,” says Sacks. “If it says ‘This product has been processed in a facility that processes wheat’ (and many do!), forget about it.”
2. Gluten-free doesn’t equal healthy. While the nutritional value of sorghum vs. tapioca flour won’t make much of a difference because of how processed down flours are, read the entire list of ingredients. “They still have salt, they still have fat, they still have highly-processed ingredients,” says Sacks. Unfortunately, a cookie by another gluten-free name will probably taste just as sweet because it’s still packed with sugar.
3. Eat whole foods. The best solution? Bypass processed packaging altogether and choose naturally gluten-free whole foods. After all, says Sacks, “If you’re going for processed foods, how much true nutrition are you going to get out of it anyway?” —Lisa Elaine Held