Thanks to the inventiveness of food manufacturers and people with celiac disease, there is no shortage of foods and recipes devoted to the gluten-free concept. Gluten-free cookies, pretzels, pizza, etc., all marketed to the gluten-free community.

Problem: The cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca starch, and rice starch–dried, powdered starches–are among the very short list of foods that increase blood sugar higher than even wheat products. Blood sugars go higher after gluten-free foods than after table sugar, higher than candy bars.

Repeated high blood sugars trigger repeated high insulin which, in turn, generates insulin resistance. This is followed by growth of visceral fat. We can no longer call it a “wheat belly”–“gluten-free belly” somehow lacks a clever ring, but that is precisely what happens. Repetitive high blood sugars also provoke the process of glycation that leads to cataracts, arthritis in both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing joints, heart disease vis small LDL creation, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and accelerated aging.

At least once a week, a patient will come back to the office who has failed to hear me say (or see it on my office handout on how to eat wheat-free) that gluten-free foods should be avoided. Instead, they eliminate wheat and seek out gluten-free foods. They fail to lose weight, often gaining a few pounds instead; fail to reduce measures of blood sugar like fasting glucose and HbA1c; fail to reduce heart disease-causing small LDL particles and triglycerides. Sure, they may obtain relief from arthritis, asthma, and intestinal complaints since they’ve avoided gluten, gliadin, and wheat lectins, but the awful blood sugar-increasing effects of gluten-free foods essentially booby trapped their efforts.

So the real answer is to follow an eating program that is wheat/gluten-free but low-carbohydrate. I commonly tell most adults that they should limit daily carbohydrate intake to 50 grams per day or less (less if extremely insulin resistant and/or carb-sensitive; more if very fit, lean, and relatively carb-insensitive–more on these distinctions to come or see my many, many posts on this in my Heart Scan Blog). A gluten-free sandwich alone would blow this limit out of the water.

So, yes, wheat- and gluten-free . . . but low-carb for full health benefits.