Gluten-free goods on the Market
For those who suffer from Celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, the loss of familiar foods like bread and cereal can be a little depressing. Over the last few years, as food manufacturers became aware of the specialty market for those avoiding gluten, a multitude of gluten-free baked goods became available.
Gluten-free baked goods are great, because they can bring a lot of joy to people who thought they were never going to get to eat a dang piece of toast again without suffering serious side effects! But are they somehow healthier? In a word: no. A cookie is still a cookie, whether it’s made with wheat flour or sorghum. That means it’s still a source of added sugar, saturated fat, and excess calories. As with all foods, gluten-free baked goods should be eaten in moderation.
The downside to gluten-free baked goods is that they can have an incredibly high glycemic index. Eating large amounts of high glycemic index foods can wreak havoc on anybody’s blood sugar, but it’s especially a concern for those with diabetes (which means it’s a concern for a full third of the US population). Foods with a high glycemic index do not make for a very satisfying snack; they won’t keep you full for very long due to fast gastric emptying.
Am I saying that all gluten-free baked goods have a high glycemic index? No. While there’s no information on the glycemic index on a nutrition information panel, you can get an idea of how starchy a food is by looking closely at the label.
First, check out that ingredient list. It’s in order of decreasing quantity, so if something is listed in the first couple of ingredients you know it’s in that food in a high amount. Gluten-free baked goods often use starches to bind the structure of the food. An excessive quantity of these fast-dissolving carbohydrates result in a high glycemic index food. So if you see potato, tapioca, or corn starch within the first couple of ingredients- it’s not a good sign.
Another way to assess the blood sugar potential of a baked good is to check out the fiber content. The presence of fiber, an indigestible carbohydrate will slow down the gastric emptying rate and subsequently the release of glucose into the bloodstream. A good amount of fiber for a serving of food is 3 to 5 grams. A not-so-good amount is <1 gram.
Hopefully this gives you some clues on your next gluten-free shopping excursion. For further information on gluten-free resources, consult the Gluten Intolerance Group.