Ask the Nutritionist: Are there benefits to a gluten-free diet if you do not have celiac disease or sensitivity?

Ask the Nutritionist

Fresh 20 Nutritionist, Allison Arnett, answers your questions about Nutrition

1. Is coconut oil a healthier alternative to other cooking oils like olive oil?

This is a very relevant question given the abundance of conflicting information. Olive oil is definitely the healthier option. Olive oil is 78% monounsaturated fat and only 8% saturated fat. Conversely, coconut oil is just 6% monounsaturated fat with an alarming 92% saturated fat. Extensive, credible research continues to show that monounsaturated fat is beneficial to heart health.

The main source of saturated fat in coconut oil is Lauric acid, which is a medium chain fatty acid. There are numerous claims of the health benefits of coconut oil, but no concrete evidence to support them. A few small, isolated studies suggest that Lauric acid in coconut oil is less harmful than other saturated fats. However, until this is proven in significant randomized controlled studies, we should limit saturated fat to less than 10% of total calories.

Take a trip to the local market and you will find a myriad of oil options available; avocado and certain nut oils (hazelnut and pistachio oil for example) are also high in monounsaturated fat. Grapeseed, and sesame oil are other good options; these are high in polyunsaturated fat, adequate in monounsaturated fat, and low in saturated fat. Keep in mind that even healthy fats like olive oil are high in calories, so measuring and eating in moderation is important.

*Update: While canola oil (modified rapeseed oil) in and of itself is considered a healthy oil by the FDA, 90% of commercial canola oil is GMO and therefore, The Fresh 20 does not use or recommended it in our recipes.

2. What fiber content should you look for when buying bread; can you recommend some good brands?

Of all the illusive food packaging, bread is one of the most challenging foods to navigate. Avoid looking at any of the marketing terms on the package of bread (i.e 12 grain, wheat, high fiber, contains whole grains) and instead turn the package over and look at the ingredients and the nutrition facts label.

A whole grain kernel is made up of 3 parts: germ, bran and endosperm. Often, the germ and bran are stripped away during processing and the endosperm, which is the predominant starch portion of the grain, is used to make many breads. Even “enriched” breads are first stripped of over 20 nutrients, less than half of which are added back during the enrichment process. 100% Whole Grain breads, with all 3 components intact, are naturally rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Whole grain bread will typically contain 3-4 grams of dietary fiber per slice. “High fiber” or “double fiber” breads typically contain some whole grain flour, but much of the added fiber is synthetic in the form of soy, oat hull fiber, chicory root fiber or inulin fiber. While there are known dietary benefits of whole foods, they do not always translate to isolated items added to foods for dietary benefit. 100% whole wheat is the better option.

If the first ingredient is “100% whole-wheat flour,” and the company is honest with labeling, this is your best option. If you see bread that lists whole wheat as the first ingredient, but has a refined grain listed at the end of the ingredients around salt or yeast, do not be overly concerned; this should still be predominantly whole wheat bread. A good source of whole grain typically translates to about a third of the grain as whole. Other 100% grains you may see listed on a label include: brown rice, buckwheat, millet, whole oats and quinoa. Simply seeing the word “wheat” on a label means nothing since flour is made from wheat. Similarly “mixed grain”, “12 grain,” or “multigrain” can just be a combination of refined grains. Other items in the ingredient list include water, cracked wheat, wheat bran, yeast and salt. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find bread without some added sugar, but certainly avoid a product that has added corn syrup. Also, use caution as some bread contains 3-4 added sugar varieties (for example: sugar, honey, molasses, cane juice).

I often recommend Food For Life Brand (Ezekiel or Genesis) sprouted grain breads. This bread is found in the frozen section of the grocery store and is made from sprouted grains with minimal added ingredients. Other brands to consider include: Rudi’s 100% whole wheat bread or Arnold/Brownberry 100% whole grain bread.

3. Are there benefits to a gluten-free diet if you do not have celiac disease or sensitivity?

Any diet that restricts healthy foods is difficult to follow. Celiac disease definitely requires a 100% gluten-free lifestyle, and as anyone who follows this lifestyle understands, it involves much more than just food. Gluten is omnipresent in food, condiments, self-care products, vitamins, and even some medicines.

Fortunately, there are many wholesome, naturally gluten free foods. Examples of gluten free grains include: quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, millet and corn. In the legume family, beans, seeds and nuts in their unprocessed form are all gluten free. All fresh fruit and vegetables are gluten free. The majority of natural dairy products and fresh meats, poultry and fish are gluten free, but use caution when buying anything premade or marinated since gluten is often hidden in sauces, marinades and dressings. Since “gluten free” has become a trend, the market has been virtually overtaken by packaged and processed gluten free products. This can be helpful for those who require it, but unfortunately it also means that many products are just a composition of isolated ingredients, often lacking in good nutrition. Simply eating gluten free foods does not translate to a healthier diet, weight loss, improved skin, or improved digestion as many gluten free advocates claim.

If you believe you would benefit from a gluten free lifestyle due to sensitivity or unexplained health symptoms, consult a medical doctor or registered dietitian. Self-diagnosis of any sort is not a substitute for an accurate medical diagnosis. Self-prescribed diets can also lead to nutrient deficiencies; it is difficult to find credible nutrition information amongst the breadth of sources available. Registered Dietitian Shelly Case shares reliable, scientifically based nutrition information on her website and blog: The Celiac Support Organization is a non-profit organization supporting celiac patients as they navigate a gluten free diet: Both of these sites also share recipes and cookbooks, which are especially helpful to create a diet, which is simultaneously gluten-free and nutritionally balanced.

Allison ArnettAllison is a Registered Dietitian with a MS in Clinical Nutrition. When Allison is not working with clients on healthy eating strategies or delivering a nutrition presentation, she is frequently found making smoothies with her 3 and 1 year old.  Allison believes that food should be wholesome, unprocessed and delicious and is excited to work with The Fresh 20 to help others enjoy balanced, nutritious meals.

If you have a nutrition question you’d like Allison to answer in a future post, please submit it in the ‘comments’ section below.