Nutrition Facts and Wheat-Free Foods - dummies

Nutrition Facts and Wheat-Free Foods

By Rusty Gregory, Alan Chasen

For the purposes of living wheat-free, you need to focus mostly on the listings in the following sections. The nutrition facts label exists to simplify your understanding of what a food contains, although its setup is sometimes more confusing than helpful.

Contrary to popular practice, this lifestyle isn’t going to focus on calories. Not that calories don’t count in some capacity, but when you rid your diet of wheat and added sugar, your food intake tends to self-regulate. Counting calories won’t be an issue.

The other info not covered here is the protein content. Cutting out wheat doesn’t mean blowing up your protein intake like many critics suggest. Actually, most wheat-free diets have a similar protein content that the body seems to regulate very well.

Serving size

Don’t confuse serving size with how much you can eat in one sitting. A serving size isn’t about how much you feel like eating. You must read what the manufacturer considers to be a serving because that amount is what the nutrition facts are calculated on.

A quick way to estimate the serving size without busting out a measuring cup is to read the “servings per container” number, which is always located near the serving size.

Checking the label is especially important because not all foods in the same category necessarily have the same recommended serving size. In the case of cereals, you often see quite a difference among serving sizes depending on the density of the product. For example, a serving of Cereal A is ½ cup, while Cereal B is 1 cup.

But serving size is still important even for healthy foods such as fruits. One type of frozen berry may have a ¾-cup serving, while another may list ½ cup. You want to know how many servings of fruit you’re really taking in so you can minimize the potential blood sugar spike.

Trans fats

What were once the darlings of the food industry are now the bane of health practitioners. Laboratory-made trans fats lead to a longer shelf life for the product, but they don’t do the same for your body. Trans fats raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol.

You should avoid these fats completely because they’re associated with an increased risk for heart disease, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, depression, asthma, and osteoporosis. Commercial baked goods such as cakes, cookies, and crackers have trans fats.

Don’t be fooled by the label, however. Companies are allowed to list trans fat content at 0 grams as long as the product contains less than 0.5 grams. So 0 doesn’t necessarily mean 0. Half a gram may not sound like a lot, but eat a few servings and your trans fats intake becomes more substantial.

Even if a label lists 0 grams of trans fat, look for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” to spot hidden amounts.


Many people check the cholesterol content of a food because they’re concerned a high number will raise their blood cholesterol, but you can pretty much ignore this part of the label. Eating cholesterol doesn’t actually increase your measured cholesterol levels.

Your body produces about 85 percent of its cholesterol on its own; even if you ingest 0 milligrams of the substance, your body will still produce cholesterol. As the body tends to do, it will lower its production of cholesterol if you eat too much and raise its production if you don’t ingest enough. So don’t fret about this number.

That doesn’t mean that your diet doesn’t affect your cholesterol levels. Wheat is a carbohydrate, and other carbs do raise your cholesterol. The chain reaction that follows the elevated blood glucose eventually leads to higher LDL levels and inflammation.

All that being said, if your doctor has put you on a low-cholesterol diet for medical reasons, don’t go off that diet without first consulting him.

Total carbohydrates

Fiber and sugar are categorized as carbohydrates on nutrition labels. However, they each get their own line of information so you can see how much of each one the food contains.

  • Fiber: Fiber is beneficial in reducing your insulin response and helping move the food along the digestive tract. However, not all fiber is created equal. The fiber you want comes from fruits and veggies, not wheat and other so-called healthy whole grains.

    Most people don’t get enough fiber on a daily basis. Shoot for about 25 grams for women and 40 grams for men. The reality, however, is that you shouldn’t need to keep track of fiber if you’re on a wheat-free lifestyle. You’ll get plenty.

  • Sugar: The sugar category needs extra attention because sugar can cause blood sugar to rise just as much as wheat and other grains can. Both sugar and wheat cause inflammation, and both trigger cravings to eat more; these cravings lead to fat storage, heart disease, and diabetes.

    Eat the lowest-sugar foods you can. (Because you can’t tell from the nutrition facts where the sugar content in a food comes from, you have to dig deeper in the ingredients list.)