If you’ve been anywhere near a television, magazine, or blog, you have probably heard about celebrities who are on a ‘gluten-free’ diet to lose weight. You may even know someone who has “cut out the gluten” to lose weight. Perhaps you have even seen some positive results.
Going on a gluten-free diet CAN help you lose weight and may even give you a boost in your energy levels. Does that mean we should all run out and stock up on all those great gluten-free products at the grocery store? As tempting as it is to do, the answer is NO. Let’s look at some simple facts and misconceptions about the gluten-free diet.
Celiac Disease Explained
The gluten-free diet, eating a diet devoid of gluten, is intended for those who are either diagnosed with celiac disease or are gluten sensitive or intolerant. To know where you fit on that scale, you would need a blood test. Celiac disease is diagnosed with a blood test; gluten sensitivity can not be diagnosed with a blood test. However, a person can determine if they are sensitive to gluten by documenting how they feel eating food with gluten and eating food without gluten.
If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, it means that gluten (the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley products) inflames the small intestine, destroying the finger-like protrusions (the villi) which transport nutrients from the food in the small intestine into the bloodstream. When the villi are destroyed, the body can not absorb the nutrients it needs, causing malnourishment which results in many health concerns.
Someone diagnosed with celiac disease must not eat any foods containing any gluten in any form. This is for health reasons, and not for weight loss.
Weight Loss Explained
A person who has celiac disease may be thin, especially in the early stages. Weight loss may occur in people with celiac disease as a result of nutrients not being absorbed properly.
Aside from people with celiac disease, you may see people lose weight who are on a gluten-free diet. There are a number of reasons for this weight loss which may have little to do with whether or not gluten is in or out of their diet. Let me explain.
When someone says they have cut gluten out of their diet to lose weight, they may actually be saying they have eliminated bread, pasta, bagels, crackers, and all those ‘gluteny’ foods. An elimination of processed foods of any kind will help facilitate weight loss. If you replace your bagel for breakfast with fresh fruit to eliminate gluten, you are simply eating a healthier diet which could result in weight loss.
Reading labels when on a gluten-free diet becomes almost fanatical. Being aware of all the added sugars, fats, and carbs will help you make smarter, healthier choices. Depending on what foods are eliminated, and what they are replaced with, a person who is eating a gluten-free diet is going to make better food choices because they are better informed.
Weight Gain Explained
When the gluten-free diet is used as a weight loss tool, there may also be weight gain as an unpleasant consequence. There are a few reasons this may occur.
Eliminating grains for your diet (wheat, barley, rye, etc.) can mean a drastic cut back in fiber. You need dietary fiber in your diet to prevent constipation. If your body is not working right, your metabolism will slow and you will begin to gain weight instead of lose weight. You can help correct this by remembering that not all grains are forbidden on a gluten-free diet. Be sure to include plenty of safe fiber (brown rice, guinoa, clean oats, etc.) in your diet to maintain a healthy dose of dietary fiber in your digestive tract.
Adding prepackaged gluten-free specialty foods is not the answer to the weight gain dilemma, either. Refined gluten-free flour is still refined flour; no fiber and little nutrition. Many of these packaged foods are less filling because they lack fiber, and they are loaded with sugar and fat to make up for the missing flavor.
Another odd side effect of gluten-free eating to lose weight is people may become unaware of how much they’re eating. We see many people eating gigantic portions of gluten-free foods because, after all, it’s good for you. Well, not necessarily. Special gluten-free bread, pasta, and crackers are oftentimes very high in carbohydrates with very little fiber to offset the carb count. Calories may be very high, as well. So, if you’re thinking, “gluten-free equals healthier,” you need to think again and read the labels. A big plate of gluten-free spaghetti is still a big plate of spaghetti.
Energy Boost Explained
It is true that some people get a nice little energy boost when they eliminate gluten from their diet. That may be in part to the elimination of carbohydrate-loaded foods like pasta and bread. When we overload on carbs and don’t work it off with exercise, we get sluggish.
Replacing carb-loaded foods with fresh fruits and vegetables will help you feel lighter and more energetic. However, as mentioned, if you start replacing wheat bread and pasta with specialty gluten-free versions of the same foods, the high carb count in those foods, combined with the less than impressive fiber count, will eventually slow you down again.
If you want to lose weight and enjoy an energy boost, you may get results with a gluten-free diet. However, you have to do the work, read the labels, and be very aware of portion control. You also have to remember that processed foods, gluten-free or not, are still processed foods. The flour used is refined, nutrients are removed, and the calories, carbs, sugars, and fat should always be questioned.
Remember, too, that if you are eliminating a food group from your diet, you must consult with your doctor or health professional to determine what nutrients you will need to be watching. If your diet typically included whole grain wheat bread, cereal, or pasta, then you need to have another source of the nutrients and fiber those foods provided.
The gluten-free diet is intended for people who have celiac disease. If you feel you exhibit some of the symptoms, please see your doctor and ask for the blood test needed for diagnosis. If you simply feel better when you don’t eat wheat, barley, or rye products, then by all means don’t eat them. You still want to consult with your doctor if this is the case.
If you want to lose weight and feel more energetic, you can try eliminating gluten from your diet and see how you feel. Just remember that to experiment with a gluten-free diet for weight loss is a process that needs to be carefully observed. Always check with your doctor first, and then proceed slowly and wisely. I wish you the best of health!