A few years ago at Gluten-Free Living we started focusing on the lack of vitamins and minerals in gluten-free products.
We launched a series of articles, called Neglected Nutrition, which covered topics like whole grains, enriched foods, fat content, vegetarian and gluten-free diets and healthy eating for kids. (You can order back issues with these stories at Gluten-Free Living)
As more gluten-free products became available, we wanted our readers to know the nutrition facts so they could choose food that was gluten-free and healthy.
So I'm happy others are paying more attention to the important issue of healthy eating and the gluten-free diet. I found evidence of that trend everywhere from the Digestive Disease Week medical conference, to a Harvard Medical School health publication to the Institute of Food Technologists convention.
At Digestive Disease week, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center presented findings of a nutrition study of about 100 men and women with celiac disease that showed most were not getting the daily recommend amounts of calcium, fiber and iron.
The study concluded it would be "sensible" to recommend a daily multi-vitamin for those who follow the gluten-free diet. (We'll have more on daily vitamins and the gluten-free diet in an upcoming issue of Gluten-Free Living.)
Food diaries kept by study participants showed they ate few healthy, gluten-free whole grains and that most of their foods were made from rice, potato and corn.
Meanwhile, in a recent article in the Harvard Health Letter Melinda Dennis, nutrition coordinator at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel, said gluten-free food made from rice, potato and corn starch lacks important vitamins and fiber. Dennis said gluten-free food makers have learned that adding xanthan and guar gums improves taste and texture of gluten-free foods made from nutrient-lacking starches. But these gums don't add any nutritional value.
So you end up with gluten-free food that tastes good, but is not really good for you.
Those who follow the gluten-free diet should eat "unconventional but nutritionally well-rounded substitutes," Dennis said. She calls them the super six - amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff.
Many specialty gluten-free companies sell baking mixes made with the one or more of the super six flours directly to consumers for home baking. But many ready made gluten-free products still rely on the trio of nutritionally weaker starches.
We might start to see that change.
At the recent food technologists conference, Conagra Mills announced the development of gluten-free, all-purpose multi grain flour that the company says is both healthy and works well in gluten-free products. It contains a proprietary blend of whole grains, plus tapioca starch. Conagra has previously sold amaranth, quinoa, millet and teff as individual flours, but the company said the blend will improve the quality of gluten-free products. The blend can be used to make bread, tortillas, muffins, snacks, coatings and cereals, according to Conagra.
If these flours catch on and if we start paying attention to all the advice to eat whole grains, as well as naturally gluten-free fruits and vegetables, nutrition for those who are gluten free won't be quite as neglected.