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Gluten-Free Doesn't Automatically Mean a Healthy Choice

PHOTO: With demand continuing to rise for gluten-free foods, people with celiac disease are finding many new options, but not all are equal. Some gluten-free products are high in sugars and fats, added to improve taste. Photo credit: Robert Couse Baker/Flickr
PHOTO: With demand continuing to rise for gluten-free foods, people with celiac disease are finding many new options, but not all are equal. Some gluten-free products are high in sugars and fats, added to improve taste. Photo credit: Robert Couse Baker/Flickr
July 28, 2014

As more food choices labeled as "gluten-free" show up on store shelves across Indiana, consumers are being warned that just because it's free of gluten doesn't automatically mean it's a healthy choice.

Mary Waldner, founder of Mary's Gone Crackers, said she welcomes more options for those, like herself, who have celiac disease, but added that the label can blur the line for consumers when it comes to nutrition, since many gluten-free foods are high in sugar and fats to improve the taste.

"I think so many gluten-free companies ... don't care what's in the food," she said. "I see it as an opportunity to really look at our food and see what's in it, and not replace it with gluten-free junk."

The gluten-free industry now is pegged at more than $23 billion annually - with sales up more than 16 percent in the past year, according to Nielsen research.

Gluten-free often is characterized as a diet trend, but Waldner said she thinks it's here to stay, whether or not the food choices are made because of a doctor's note. Because of the new awareness of gluten, she said, the public is learning that decades of eating processed foods come at a cost.

"Our guts are in bad shape," she said. "We're eating such highly refined foods. We have been doing damage to our digestive system, and I think wheat is a very hard thing to digest."

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac disease is one of the world's most common genetic autoimmune disorders, affecting about 1 percent of the population.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA