The truth about going gluten-free and weight loss

Gluten free diet

Going gluten-free has been all the rage for quite some time primarily because of the perceived notion it can induce weight loss. The funny thing is a gluten-free diet was never meant to be a weight loss diet.

A gluten-free diet is a specialized way of eating for people with celiac disease, a hereditary condition, to prevent their body from responding to a protein called gluten.  Gluten which is found in grains of wheat, barley, and rye, can lead to significant damage to the small intestine.  People’s immune system who have celiac disease respond to gluten by attacking the small intestine leading to damage on the villi, small finger-like projections lining the small intestine that promote nutrient absorption.   The only way they can avoid this situation is to follow a strict, gluten-free diet.

Following a gluten-free diet, expecting it to be a form of a weight loss diet, is not the recommended way to go about this. Anytime a person follows a restricted diet or way of eating they often will lose weight but the gluten-free diet is only meant for those with celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity.

The truth about gluten-free diets

Only one percent of the American population has celiac disease truly needing to be following a gluten-free diet and about another six percent who have a condition called gluten-sensitivity can benefit from it also.  Otherwise, if you do not have celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity, you do not need to follow a gluten-free diet – particularly for weight loss.  Here’s why:

  • There is no evidence a gluten-free diet results in weight loss. If it does, it’s because the diet is restrictive on what a person is allowed to eat, therefore there typically is a reduction in calories.  Otherwise, there is nothing inherently special to induce weight loss by going gluten-free.
  • Gluten-free foods tend to be more expensive. There is an excess cost associated with food manufacturers in producing gluten-free foods and that cost gets passed on to the consumer.
  • Gluten-free diets can be low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This can result in possible nutrient deficiencies of iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate in addition to increased constipation.
  • A self-prescribed gluten withdrawal may undermine the ability to detect celiac disease in someone who has the condition. To diagnosis celiac disease is to look for inflammation caused by gluten but if they haven’t been eating much gluten, then they may not get diagnosed.  It’s important to get a correct diagnosis of celiac disease as it is a genetic disease and therefore, the rest of the family should be tested.
  • Some gluten-free followers claim they notice increased energy. An explanation for this could be that they are eating more fruits and vegetables, rather than high-calorie and high-fat processed foods.  When a person starts eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, they often do feel more energy, no matter if they are eliminating gluten or not.  Besides, no studies have shown that eliminating gluten leads to increased energy levels.
  • Following a gluten-free diet may potentially cause a decrease in the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut negatively impacting the immune system.
  • Adopting a gluten-free diet is not an easy change. You will have to pay close attention to food labels, which takes time and dedication.

The bottom line

The best advice for weight loss is to stick to a diet plan of choosing more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, lean meat, more fish, and low-fat dairy.  If you can tolerate gluten, why eliminate foods your body can handle and still be part of a healthy diet? Learn to make wise dietary choices, get inconsistent exercise, and you won’t have to be avoiding foods that are perfectly okay for you to eat and enjoy.

If you have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, it is not recommended to follow a gluten-free diet.  If you are trying to lose weight sensibly, contact a Registered Dietitian who can work with you on creating a healthy and effective weight loss plan.

If you suspect you have celiac disease, contact your physician to be tested to make a correct diagnosis.

The truth about going gluten-free and weight loss
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi