Going gluten-free can be good for you, but it takes more effort than what the regular Joe and Jane usually allow for. That’s why I often refer to what most folks in the GF community are eating as the Standard American Gluten-Free Diet (SAGFD). It’s truly the crappy mirror image of the abysmally unhealthy Standard American Diet, but with the gluten removed.
Case in point: a gluten-free brownie is still a brownie, yes? You don’t get license to eat the junk simply because gluten is a problem for you. But if you’ve taken this approach, just swapping everything one for one: pizza for GF pizza, bagels for GF bagels, waffles for GF waffles, bread for GF bread – well, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.
I’d love to think that you really care about your gut (and if you’re doing the one-for-one swap all the time, then you really don’t), but it’s won’t be the only part of your body to suffer if you don’t give up the SAGFD. Consider your heart! It’s February and though I find love stories, well, lovely, it’s not exactly going to benefit you long term.
So let’s go straight to the heart of the matter and talk: How can your gluten-free diet be bad for your heart???
FIVE ways your GF diet is bad for your heart
& what you can do about it:
1) Sugar & Refined Starches
You’ve heard me rail against the sugar addiction which is prevalent in the GF community. It’s why I even started the Gluten-Free Sugar Cleanse. There’s plenty of data to back up the claim that sugar consumption directly impact heart disease (and other chronic health problems like Diabetes).
Even a study completed in 2011 by the University of California found that diets containing 25% of calories derived from fructose & high-fructose corn syrup with the inclusion of a 1 8-ounce serving of fruit juice per day was enough to elevate your risk factors significantly. Foods like fruit juice and other fruit & HFCS-sweetened food products may be gluten-free, but they still will do a number on your heart.
Tip: Keep your sugar to under 28 grams of added sugar per day.
2) Palm Kernel Oil & Hydrogenated Oils
Used in cheaper gluten-free products, palm kernel oil is produced by a “gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent” as described by Dr. Andrew Weil. Meanwhile, hydrogenated oils and partially-hydrogenated oils are produced so that they remain solid or semi-solid at room temperature and can thicken your blood making it more difficult to pump while also scarring the inside of your arteries thanks to nickel which is used in the process of making it.
Neither option is healthy as they both contain the dangerous type of fats which clog arteries and cause unnecessary oxidative stress on the body. I avoid these like the plague.
Tip: Opt for healthier, less refined oils such as olive, grapeseed, and coconut.
3) High Sodium
Highly processed and refined foods (like most gluten-free products on the market) need something to amplify the flavor profile… and that one thing is Sodium. Salt is a flavor enhancer and can work as a preserver as well. Very few gluten-free products are low in sodium since they wouldn’t have enough flavor to keep your taste buds happy. Consuming excess sodium can lead to high blood pressure, thickening of the artery walls, strokes, and increased risk of a heart attack.
Tip: Minimize excess salt by opting for low-sodium products. To be considered low-sodium, the ratio of grams of sodium to the number of calories should be close to 1:1. For example, 100 calories to 100 grams of sodium.
4) Low in Fiber
Gluten-free products are notoriously low in fiber because the starches and flours used tend to be highly refined. Fiber is important for your heart because it can help lower bad cholesterol levels as well as elevated blood pressure. It also can lower blood sugar levels for my GF friends struggling with blood sugar control or diabetes. And good fiber keeps food moving through your digestive system in a timely fashion.
Tip: Make sure you’ve got a good variety of veggies in all your meals and opt for GF products that have 3 to 5 grams of fiber per serving.
5) Highly Acidic
Add up the points I just listed and what you get is a highly acidic diet that eats up your body’s supply of minerals (otherwise known as electrolytes). This happens because a certain pH balance must be maintained despite what you’re eating. Highly processed gluten-free foods are acidic by nature (I’m not talking about the type of pain you’d experience when drinking a glass of OJ with a cut in your mouth).
The junk you eat depletes your natural reserves of electrolytes (think calcium in your bones and magnesium in your muscles) leaving you running on empty. Guess what muscle direly needs magnesium? Your heart.
Tip: Steer away from gluten-free food products and start eating food that’s real. Get cooking!