By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Listen, sweet peas: I’m all about the occasional snack. I love a little nosh just like the rest of you and actually think it’s a necessary part of a well-balanced healthy diet.
But you might remember a little time in the 1980s when people thought every label that said “low-fat” meant the goodies inside were bound to be healthy. Forget the fact that it was loaded with sugars, preservatives and other additives you couldn’t pronounce. It was low fat! It was healthy!
Yeah, not so much.
Turn out those tasty little low-fat treats were not as healthy as people across the country would have liked to believe. Instead, those “healthy” cookies, cereals, salad dressings and other things wrapped in plastic with a shelf life of forever were equally as bad – or worse – than their full-fat counterparts.
Well, guess what, dear readers? We’re traveling down a similar road when it comes to the boatload of gluten-free products that are also believed to be healthy and nourishing. The truth is, food companies and manufacturers are no dummies – they know people are jumping on the gluten-free train whether they need to – because of a celiac disease diagnosis or gluten intolerance – or not. So, they are making products to meet that demand – and they aren’t always healthy all-stars.
So, that means it’s time for all of us to wise up and get the facts, right? Below, I take the liberty of comparing two popular snacks to their gluten-free brothers and sisters. Read on and learn how to suss out the details when it comes to choosing gluten-free snacks that are also healthy.
Gluten-free snack: Glutino sour cream & onion potato crisps (glutino.com)
With ingredients like soybean oil, corn oil, silicon dioxide and monocalcium phosphate, I promise there’s nothing healthy or natural about these babies. Each ounce of these chips has 2.5 grams of fat (0 grams of saturated), 270 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of sugar. Sure, the stats aren’t off the charts, but you know the age-old saying from Lays: “betcha can’t eat just one.” Before you know it, that cute lil’ gluten-free bag of chips will be empty, love bug.
Regular snack: Lay’s sour cream & onion flavored potato chips (fritolay.com)
Make no mistake – the fat content in these babies is much higher than the Glutino brand (10 grams fat.; 1 gram saturated fat), but the rest of the numbers are pretty much the same (160 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams carbohydrate and less than 1 gram of sugar). And the ingredients list doesn’t sound much different – maltodextrin, vegetable oil, gum arabic and various “natural flavors” are all in there. (Plus, here’s a little secret: They are gluten-free, too.)
Gluten-free snack: Udi’s blueberry muffins (udisglutenfree.com)
I will give it to this snack for touting ingredients that aren’t too difficult to pronounce and 200 fewer calories than their gluten-filled counterpart. But they still boast 9 grams of fat (2.5 grams of saturated fat), 260 milligrams of sodium and 21 grams of sugar per muffin. Not terrible, but not healthy either.
Regular snack: Dunkin’ Donuts blueberry muffin (dunkindonuts.com)
High fructose corn syrup, gelatinized wheat starch, sorbitan monostearate and “natural” flavors are just a few of the ingredients in these bundles of cellulite that will seriously make you cringe (seriously, say “gelatinized” a few times and you’ll get shivers down your spine). These guys clock in at 460 calories, 15 grams of fat (3 grams of saturated fat) 450 grams sodium, 76 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber and 44 grams of sugar. I’ll say it again: Gelatinized!
Listen: the point is not that you can’t enjoy a little treat every now and then. You heard what I said earlier and I meant it – treats are a necessary part of a balanced diet. But you need to keep some perspective about your gluten-free game.
This isn’t a math equation you’re going to like, but a gluten-free label does not necessarily equal a healthy nosh. Instead, be sure to read labels and do your research before purchasing a gluten-free snack – or any food item for that matter – at the store.
Make it a general rule to skip packaged snacks and opt for natural, healthy on-the-go snacks, like sliced apples and a couple tablespoons of peanut butter; pre-cut veggies with a container of hummus or a baggie of raw nuts mixed with dried fruit.
Let me know: What’s your favorite healthy gluten-free snack? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the author of The Gluten-Free Revolution and a certified health coach. She is also the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at email@example.com.