For these reasons, going gluten-free is not always a better choice. “If you think you have an intolerance to gluten, before you take it out of your diet, go see a gastroenterologist and really be tested appropriately,” Dr. Lee said. An added benefit: Celiac disease is more difficult to diagnose in people who have already eliminated gluten.
There’s also quality of life to consider. Restricting your diet can make you more anxious in social situations or make you more reluctant to try homemade foods at family meals, Ms. Jones said. Food “is not only fuel for our bodies, but it also gives us enjoyment, too. You don’t want to miss out on enjoyment, especially nowadays,” she added, referring to those who avoid gluten without a medical reason.
For her patients who need to eliminate gluten, Dr. Lee advises focusing less on packaged gluten-free products and more on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and gluten-free whole grains and seeds like amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, teff and millet. “If you do a gluten-free diet where you’re using foods that are naturally gluten-free, like all these wonderful grains, then your diet can be incredibly healthy,” she said.
But if you’re craving a sandwich, you’ll need bread. The good news is that gluten-free products have improved — “they’re better than they were even five years ago,” Dr. Lee said. Many manufacturers have started to include more gluten-free whole grains in their products, which can boost fiber, protein and some vitamins and minerals. Just as wheat-based breads can range widely in nutritional quality, from highly processed white bread to whole grain loaves, the same is now true of gluten-free options, Dr. Lee said.
To identify better gluten-free breads, Dr. Lee recommended comparing their nutrition labels with those from whole wheat breads. Check for similar levels of fiber and protein and minimal added sugar, and look for a bread with whole grains among the first few ingredients, which are listed in descending order by weight, so that the first ingredient is always present in the largest amount. “If your first ingredients are water and tapioca starch, put the bread back on the shelf,” Dr. Lee said.