With all the hype around gluten-free bread and touting of the health benefits, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed and confused. Let’s go back to basics in this article and discuss what we mean when we refer to gluten-free bread.
What is gluten-free bread?
First, let’s have a reminder about what gluten is. A useful article from Harvard Chan School of Public Health’s The Nutrition Source provides some basic information: gluten is a protein naturally found in some grains including wheat, barley, and rye. This article also provides a handy list of other grains that contain gluten: wheat berries, spelt, durum, emmer, semolina, farina, farro, graham, khorasan wheat, einkorn, and triticale (a blend of wheat and rye).
Thus, gluten-free bread is free of such grains. Gluten-free bread may use various type of flour, such as:
Some recipes may combine these with a combination of rice flour, millet flour and other ingredients, for example.
How does gluten-free bread do regarding calories, carbohydrates and other nutrients?
Given all the variety of ingredients in gluten-free bread, of course the caloric content and content of other nutrients varies widely. Let’s do a comparison of a few products to get an idea.
First, let’s take Dave’s Killer Bread (NOT a gluten-free product), a brand I previously recommended in my post about healthy breads. One slice of the whole wheat bread with 21 whole grains and seeds contains 110 calories, 22g total carbohydrates, 5g fiber and 5g protein.
Canyon Gluten Free Bakehouse 7 grain bread, in contrast, is made with various types of flour, with brown rice flour as the first listed. This product contains 90 calories per slice, 17g carbohydrate, 1g fiber and 2g protein.
Three Bakers Great Seed Whole Grain and Seven Seed Bread is another gluten-free option. Like the Canyon Gluten Free Bakehouse product, brown rice flour is the second ingredient following water. This product contains 100 calories per slice, 19g carbohydrate, 3g fiber and 1.5g protein.
Another example with some different ingredients is Grindstone Bakery’s 100% Quinoa Loaf. This product’s first ingredient is whole quinoa stone ground. It contains 82 calories per slice, 16g carbohydrate, 3g fiber and 3g protein.
It’s pretty interesting to look at the variation in nutritional content of these items–of note, the bread made with wheat has the most calories per slice, and also quite a bit more protein and fiber than the other options. With regards to the total carbohydrates found in the wheat vs. gluten-free bread, we see what the wheat contains the most, but the gluten-free options are not far behind.
Is it healthy to switch to exclusively gluten-free bread?
First, we should note that it may be necessary to eliminate gluten from the diet in some cases. If you suffer from celiac disease, an immune disease in which gluten damages the small intestine, then this is the case.
Others may simply prefer the taste or texture of gluten-free products (although the common belief is that they have an unpleasant mouth-feel) or have other reasons for making the switch. If that’s your case, you may be wondering if they are a good long-term choice. To determine this, it is necessary to consider your diet as a whole. Here are a few things you want to make sure you get enough of if you’re thinking of making the switch to gluten-free bread:
In considering the gluten-free diet, one thing researchers have pointed out is the potentially low fiber content. An article on the gluten-free diet and nutrient deficiencies points out that gluten-free products may be low in fiber due to the starches and refined flours. However, considering the options I presented in this article, we can see that there is quite a bit of variability in the fiber content of gluten-free bread. If your diet is not generally adequate in fiber, you will want to pay attention to this when choosing gluten-free bread.
A recent article mentions that “only 5% of gluten-free breads were fortified with all four mandatory fortification nutrients (calcium, iron, niacin, and thiamin), only 9% of gluten-free bread products were fortified with thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, and 28% of gluten-free breads were fortified with calcium and iron only.” Given this, it’s important to make sure you pay attention to your intake of micronutrients when choosing exclusively gluten-free bread.
Researchers have also pointed out gluten-free products are generally lower in protein than standard products. A couple of the products I presented above demonstrate that. There are many other ways to obtain protein in the diet besides bread, such as through items such as meat, soy, legumes and nuts, and you will want to be sure your diet contains enough.
While choosing gluten-free bread may be medically necessary for some, others may have the option to choose a standard product. Given that gluten-free bread may often be less nutritious than a standard option, you will want to make that choice carefully. As always, choose foods in the context of your diet as a whole, and make sure you are meeting your needs for essential nutrients.
Have questions? Comments? I would love to hear what you think below!