I continue to receive a plethora of messages and questions from members of the Grain Brain community looking to find out if a particular gluten-free product is acceptable on the Grain Brain program. These products come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but some of the most common are the “gluten-free” breads, pastas, cookies, etc., often found in a dedicated gluten-free section of the grocery store.
So are these items fair game?
In the first place, it was only August of last year that the FDA established guidelines for what defines “gluten-free.” As things stand, compliance with this regulation doesn’t even go into effect until August of this year. This means that, until then, the world of gluten-free labeling is still a “lawless” terrain where you never know what you’re going to encounter. So it’s best to avoid products that could contain any trace of gluten. Consume those products that don’t have gluten in the first place.
Second, the products I just identified (cookies, pastas, breads, etc.) are still powerful sources of carbohydrates! Though gluten-free, they will still have a strong impact on raising blood sugar. As I have emphasized in Grain Brain, as well as on my PBS program, BrainChange, even mild elevation of blood sugar represent a substantial risk for a multitude of health consequences including dementia, as was recently described in the New England Journal of Medicine.
A quick tip: shop the periphery of the grocery store. If you circle the center aisles, you’ll find yourself only shopping the frozen foods (of course, avoid the ice cream), meats, vegetables, dairy, etc. aisles, and avoiding those central aisles of grains and other processed foods, gluten-free or otherwise.