This is a guest post by Carol Harvey, Director of food/nutrition labeling and product development at Palate Works.
“Gluten-free” is big. There are gluten-free Girl Scout cookies, and even a marketing company putting on large tasting expos around the country. But the products are still evolving from a “make it taste like old-style refined foods” mentality (see: Girl Scout cookie) to something healthier than the same old empty calories.
The recent Gluten & Allergen Free Expo in San Mateo featured around 150 vendors and 2,000 attendees over two days. While the variety of gluten-free grain-based products has greatly expanded, it was challenging to find much to recommend.
The best options for cookies/sweet treats were more like bars or clusters. They can incorporate dried fruits, nuts, etc. for good texture and flavor without relying on as much added sugar or refined flours (something many gluten-free cookies use to excess). Of course, this adds to the price.
I Heart Keenwah snacks get it mostly right by using three forms of quinoa (roasted, puffed and flakes) – for better texture, nutrition and digestibility – as well as nuts for some protein and fat to balance the “sugar effect.” Their organic Peanut Butter Cacao Clusters have a better fiber-to-sugar ratio, and much less saturated fat (1 g – all from nuts) than your average cookie/treat.
The ingredient list:
organic quinoa (whole grain quinoa, quinoa flakes, quinoa crisps), peanuts, tapioca syrup, raw sugar, honey, organic dark chocolate, organic brown rice crisps, organic cacao nibs, baking soda, salt.
nutrition per serving (serving size: 1oz. (28g)): amount per serving: calories 130, fat cal 40, total fat 4.5g (7% dv), sat. fat 1g (5% dv), trans fat 0g, cholest. 0mg (0% dv), sodium 115mg (5% dv), total carb. 19g (6% dv), fiber 1g (4% dv), sugars 7g, protein 3g, vitamin a (0% dv), vitamin c (0% dv), calcium (0% dv), iron (4% dv).
Gluten-free crackers are available at most supermarkets now, but tend to be of the refined (not whole) grain variety – lots of white rice flour, potato starch, etc. A few companies are ditching that style, including Grains of Wellness, which has a line of whole-grain black rice and red rice mini cracker-chips that offer the texture and addictiveness of Triscuit, but gluten-free, non-GMO, and with some anthocyanin content (from the natural pigments).
Ancient Harvest was one of the first to produce a gluten-free pasta. It uses organic quinoa and corn (and water… left off the ingredients list for some reason), with the quinoa ensuring more protein, fiber and iron than in plain corn or rice pastas. Fiber is stated a little higher than would be expected here, but it will still be better than in a refined-grain pasta.
The new/old message is that whole grains, dried fruits and nuts trump (for taste, texture and nutrition) the refined starches (often supplemented with fiber isolates) still being used in gluten-full and gluten-free products. It is possible to find something healthier and gluten-free containing simple ingredients… if you search.
Carol Harvey has been a nutrition labeling and product development consultant for over 15 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.