There you are, gazing up at packaged foods on the grocery shelves, poring over restaurant menus and wondering what the “gluten-free” buzz is all about.
The gluten-free diet is a necessity for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. But now people are asking: could it be a healthy diet for the rest of us? Specifically, is a gluten-free diet good for weight loss?
A gluten-free diet entails eliminating all barley, rye and wheat from one’s diet. This has pros and cons when it comes to our waistlines. Here’s what I’ve found about whether a gluten-free diet is good for weight loss…
According to Mayo Clinic, a gluten-free diet wipes out French fries, cookies, crackers, cakes, candy, sauces, salad dressings and processed lunchmeat. It also eliminates cereal (which is less healthy than you think), as well as bread, pasta and beer. In other words, going gluten-free nixes 12 things that can be fattening. So in a roundabout way, is a gluten-free diet good for weight loss? Perhaps.
But gluten isn’t the reason the above mentioned foods are trouble. Gluten happens to be used as a filler in many processed foods, but it’s the salt, fat, sugar and additives that make them unhealthy. So buying the modified gluten-free versions of those foods will not help you lose weight.
On another positive note, a gluten-free diet includes many healthy whole food staples. Fresh eggs, fresh meats, beans, unprocessed nuts and seeds, dairy, and fruits and veggies are all naturally gluten-free.
While going gluten-free may erase some fattening foods from your diet, it can also erase essential nutrients. People with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity tend to suffer from nutrient deficiencies.
For one, wheat and barley make up about 80% of the sources from which we get favorable colon bacteria, according to a paper in the British Journal of Nutrition. By eliminating wheat products, a gluten-free diet can hurt intestinal health.
It can also hinder weight management, since whole grains and fiber are known to promote weight loss. A research review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics concluded that a gluten-free diet does not guarantee weight loss, and in some cases, study participants on the diet have gained weight.
Don’t be fooled because gluten-free foods live in the health food aisle. A product can be gluten-free and still contain all kinds of additives. And the filler they use in place of gluten may actually be unhealthy, as well as higher in calories.
A Better Alternative
People who have a gluten sensitivity may experience abdominal pain, bloating, headaches, fatigue, and bone or joint pain. If you suspect that you might have a gluten disorder, it’s certainly worth testing out a gluten-free diet. Your doctor can help you assess the symptoms and ensure proper supplementation so you don’t lose essential nutrients. (And whatever you do, don’t make big changes without creating a plan to avoid diet chaos.)
For the rest of us, however, a gluten-free diet isn’t necessary for weight loss and may even be harmful. By all means, usher the cookies and cakes out of your diet. But stick with whole wheat, barley and rye if you can.
Most importantly, don’t assume foods with a gluten-free label are healthier — if you’re eating gluten-free donuts, you’re still eating donuts. 😉