Gluten-free diets are one of the top food trends of the year. But there is a lot controversy about whether the diets provide enough nutrients and fiber, if they really promote weight loss, and whether they are difficult to maintain. Here’s the lowdown from someone who chooses to go “gluten-free” for good health.

1. It has never been easier to be on a gluten-free diet. The gluten-free food market for 2010 is estimated to be more than $1.6 billion. Supermarkets and restaurants are on to the trend and have been providing more and more gluten-free options. Top chain supermarkets are carrying gluten-free bread and baking mixes, pastas, crackers, frozen breads and pizza crusts. For the most part, gluten-free packaged goods do cost a little more, but I stock up when they are on sale and they do not form the basis of my diet. Fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean protein and whole grains such as brown rice and oats are the mainstays of my diet. Additionally, I don’t mind paying a little more for gluten-free food because the diet strengthens my immune system and keeps me healthy. Therefore, my medical costs are low. Many restaurants, including national pizza chains and local upscale steakhouses offer gluten-free dining options beyond a chicken Caesar salad without croutons. Go out, explore and you will be pleasantly surprised!

2. Gluten-free diets can be more nutritious than the typical American diet in which half the daily calories come from wheat and sugar. Don’t exchange wheat bread and pastries for gluten-free bread and pastries. Replace the wheat and sugar in your diet with whole foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and oats. Instead of a muffin or cereal with milk for breakfast, eat yogurt or oatmeal with organic mixed berries. Rather than a slice of whole wheat toast, eat one cup of organic mixed berries filled with health protecting phytochemicals.

Food                         Calories per 1 cup serving      Fiber in grams
Mixed Berries                            70                                                      4
Cheerios®                                 100                                                     3
Whole Wheat Toast                    110                                                     3
Oatmeal                                    150                                                    5
Frosted Flakes®                         150                                                    1
Small Blueberry Muffin                259                                                    1

So how do these foods compare on a calorie per gram of fiber basis?

Berries= 18 calories per gram of fiber
Oatmeal= 30 calories per gram of fiber
Cheerios®= 33 calories per gram of fiber
Whole Wheat Bread= 37 calories per gram of fiber
Frosted Flakes ® = 150 calories per gram of fiber
Small Blueberry Muffin= 259 calories per gram of fiber

Berries win hands down. Fruit and vegetables are more nutritionally dense than foods containing wheat. Many gluten-free grains are superior nutritionally to wheat. Don’t take the word of spokespeople representing the American Dietetics Association that gluten-free diets won’t promote weight loss. Major corporate sponsors for the ADA include General Mills (who sell Cheerios®) and Kellogg’s (who sell Frosted Flakes®). If you exchange one slice of whole wheat bread for one cup of berries daily you will save 40 calories per day (times 365 days per year equals 14,600 calories) and lose 4 pounds per year (14,600/ 3500 calories per pound= 4 pounds).

According to the USDA, the average American eats the equivalent of 10 slices of bread per day. If Americans would just replace half the wheat they eat with fruits and vegetables that have 35% fewer calories and are naturally filled with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, the result would be a weight loss of 20 pounds per year and a thinner society. If they replaced 70% of the wheat with vegetables and fruit, we are talking 28 pounds per year and, maybe a much healthier society taking fewer prescription drugs.

Go gluten-free for good health!