As a dietitian, I am continually on the look-out for new products on our supermarket shelves. Yet often I feel the rate at which new products take up shelf space, outstrips my weekly grocery trip. This was the case last week, when I stalled in the Gluten Free section of my local supermarket. The market for Gluten Free (GF) products appears to have catapulted into enormity. There are now more GF cereals, bars, biscuits and mixes than ever. On one hand, this is fabulous. Finally, more options for those who need, or choose to eat GF (and those who need to cook or cater for a GF family member or guest). Party hosts can now serve more GF crackers and desserts. Dinner dishes requiring pastry, custard or gravy can still be made.
There are also some convenient, quick, packaged snack options that can be great for times when minimal handling of food & storage/freshness are priorities. Yet on the other hand, as I scanned more closely, some of these products are highly processed and not the best options for people with celiac disease who are also watching their weight and/or other health conditions such as diabetes. Here are some of the main issues to keep in mind when considering these products:
- Total kilojoules (energy), a lot of these products have higher than expected.
- TIP: Ideally, a snack should be <600kJ/serve and a meal <2000kJ (depending on your size and activity you may need more or less)
- Added fat (including saturated fat), salt and added sugar are often used to make particular products tastier.
- TIP: Read the nutrition information panel. <10g of total fat/100g is ideal. Aim for products with saturated fats <1/3 of total fats. <10g of sugar/100g is great. Ideally salt (sodium) should be <120mg/100g.
- The base ingredient in many GF packed foods are flours such as rice and potato, which have a high GI.
- TIP: Look for ingredients such as buckwheat, quinoa, chickpea, legume flours and psyllium which are generally lower GI.
- Take into account overall nutrition.
- TIP: Be wary of a long list of ingredients; try to choose products based on wholegrains, high in fibre (at least 3g/serve) and with important vitamins/minerals added.
Although the GF section of the supermarket often falls in the ‘health food’ aisle, some of these products leave much to be desired in terms of ‘healthy’ options. When it comes to snacks, raw vegetable sticks, fruit, nuts, reduced-fat yogurt, wholegrain rice crackers, and plain air-popped pop corn are some of the best GF snack options (double check on the label they are GF).
Be creative. A cooled cob of corn or baby new potatoes, a boiled egg, chickpeas in little containers, one of the better GF cereals in a zip-locked bag. See www.coeliacsociety.com.au for more information and a comprehensive list of ingredients and foods suitable for Gluten Free diets as well as endorsed product lines and recipe books.
Overall, I think it’s great to have more options for GF diets, just be aware that many of these products are not suitable for every day eating. If you are eating GF, it’s worth investing in some good GF cook books. Get handy with creating GF meals and snacks from scratch, you’ll save money and it’s much easier than you first expect!