The gluten-free movement is no joke. At this point, it’s actually a serious business — not a passing trend… And by 2020, the gluten-free market will be valued at close to 7.59 billion dollars.1
Not only that, but 29% of Americans said they were looking to avoid gluten for health reasons according to a recent survey.2 And there are multiple reasons why the appeal is broadening. Some of these are due to growing awareness about health concerns. But some of these reasons are a little, well, shaky.
The truth is, though, that the gluten-free category is expanding. Before, the market seemed to consist only of obvious replacement foods – like bread and cereal. Today, you can find gluten-free variations of just about any food – including candy and candy bars. Read on to learn what your options are… and if they’re even worth considering.
What Is Gluten-Free? Should I “Go” Gluten-Free?
Let’s start with a simple definition… what is gluten?
Well, gluten is a protein contained in many varieties of wheat. And wheat is a major staple of the U.S. diet… so consuming plenty of wheat means the average person eats plenty of gluten.
Most Americans get their gluten from grains, cereals, and bread. However, wheat and gluten also sneak their way into other foods. Surprisingly, frozen vegetables in sauces, certain flavorings, and even certain supplements may have gluten.3
For the average Jane or Joe, that doesn’t mean much. However, if you have a sensitivity to gluten, you may have issues.
Turns out, roughly 1 in 100 people suffer from celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine after eating gluten. In fact, in 2006, roughly 4% of people were diagnosed with a wheat allergy which could lead to skin, respiratory, and gastrointestinal symptoms after consuming wheat.4
Now, you don’t necessarily need a formal diagnosis to discover you may struggle with gluten. Experts estimate that 18 million Americans happen to have a gluten sensitivity. This means that gluten still bothers you, but it’s not a full-blown celiac disease.
While no one’s exactly sure what leads to a gluten sensitivity, it’s a common theory that FODMAPs play a role. These are a group of carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest. But a recent study suggests that a diet lower in FODMAPs might actually help to reduce digestive issues.5
Of course, many people have praised gluten-free diets for everything from giving them more energy to losing weight to supporting mental health. But there are no legitimate studies suggesting that these benefits are proven… at least, not directly.
So, let’s say you choose to adopt a gluten-free diet, and you ate less bread and more vegetables. A lower amount of carbohydrates and a greater amount of other nutrients mean weight loss, right?
Well, a gluten-free diet could help you lose weight, but ditching gluten won’t guarantee a skinnier physique…
After all, you could go gluten-free, and still eat ice cream, rice, and potato chips — and pack on the pounds.
Plus, there’s some speculation that gluten-free diets can be dangerous (for people without gluten sensitivity) because they’re lower in certain vitamins like –
But, it’s important to note that there are plant-based options for all these nutrients. And you should also recognize that an imbalanced diet, gluten-free or otherwise, is bad for you. For this reason, always consult with a doctor or nutritionist before making a drastic dietary change.
So let’s say you’ve given up gluten… and you’re eating a mostly healthy diet… but you want to indulge. Then, there’s good news: there are plenty of gluten-free dessert options out there — including many of the world’s most popular candy bars.
But that doesn’t give you a blank check to go crazy…
Even gluten-free candy often has tons of sugar, dairy, and unhealthy additives.
So read those labels, and keep it to a very VERY occasional indulgence — not a daily treat.
Your Gluten-Free Candy Options
A great place to start your gluten-free candy search is with the full list of gluten-free candies from The Celiac Foundation. Here are some gluten-free options from some of the major candy brands:7
Now, you may be thinking, “Chocolate has gluten?” Well sure, chocolate shouldn’t contain wheat, but unfortunately, your average commercial chocolate has anywhere from one to 11 ingredients besides chocolate. And certain preparations may include wheat – for instance, a chocolate-cookie combination definitely has wheat.
But, the real threat is in the preparation.
You see, often the same equipment could be used to process cacao, rye, and wheat. The trouble here is the cross-contamination of chocolate with traces of wheat or rye.
Also, a gluten-free product could be made alongside one a wheat product. So, most chocolate candies aren’t actually gluten-free. Jelly beans or sours fall in a similar boat. They may not contain gluten on purpose, but be careful – they are often made in facilities that process gluten.
There is good news, though. If you don’t have time to sort through a big list, some new brands are making the gluten-free search easier. They make gluten-free candies and other products in facilities with no gluten at all. This means less worry about cross contamination.
So, Is Gluten-Free Candy Worth It?
With or without gluten, there’s still something to consider about candy. In moderation, candy has minimal effects on the human body.8 But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy!
It’s all about that pesky added sugar — and dairy, too!
Candy doesn’t really have any nutrients to speak of. And added sugar doesn’t help your body in any way. In fact, sometimes it can make things worse.
For example, extra sugar can feed the harmful bacteria in your mouth which can accelerate tooth decay.9
Excess sugar is also associated with obesity. In fact, one study showed that sugar-sweetened beverages were associated with a massive 60% increase in the risk of obesity in children. So, lowering your sugar consumption is one of the best ways to cut down on your weight.10
So, if you’re looking for gluten-free snacks, you may want to look beyond the candy section at your grocery store.
Instead, consider tree nuts. Nuts can be satisfying, flavorful, and easy to take to work – just like candy. But nuts have a lot more to offer when it comes to nutrition. Lots of nuts are actually rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and vitamin E. But you should note – not all nuts are created equal. So be sure to buy raw nuts to avoid any unwanted added salt or sugar.
Or if you must eat candy, look for bittersweet dark chocolate that’s both vegan AND gluten free — it’s higher in antioxidants, lower in sugar, and doesn’t have dairy (which is a trigger food for a lot of people).
Gluten-Free Candy In Review
Whether you’re getting excited to share sweetness for a holiday or simply looking to indulge in a sugar craving, gluten-free candy can provide an accessible option for a lot of people – including those with certain dietary sensitivities.
However, most – if not all – gluten-free, processed foods should be consumed in moderation. For example, a frozen meat replacement may be vegan, but can still be packed with sodium. Ultimately, this isn’t good for you. In the same vein, gluten-free candy is still candy. So, of course, most of these options are somewhat bad for you.
What does this mean for you as a consumer?
Well, simply – be smart. A treat every now and then or having fun on Halloween is fine. However, eating any candy with regularity isn’t a good idea. Think of gluten-free candy as a means of inclusion. If you want to indulge yourself—here’s how everyone can enjoy themselves. However, these candies should never serve as a substitute or foundation for any type of diet.
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