Is Gluten-Free the Next Big Weight Loss Diet?

By Marsha Hudnall
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476147_organicYou might ask what world I’m living in with that question if you’ve followed weight loss diets for any amount of time.  ‘Cuz you’d know that gluten-free has been around a while as a way to lose weight.

I’m skeptical of the advice as a weight loss strategy in and of itself.  But I’m not so sure cutting out gluten isn’t worthwhile for some of us to explore for other reasons.

What I Am Sure About

All of us don’t need to go gluten-free, despite Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s claim in her new book The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide that “even people with no health issues have a great deal to gain by giving up gluten.”

It’s more like we have a great deal to lose.  And it’s not excess poundage.

My short list includes the enjoyment of a wonderful piece of freshly-baked crusty bread in all its glutinous goodness.

We also lose complete freedom in eating.  Anyone who has to avoid something because of allergies or other intolerances knows well what this loss means.  It’s not untenable; it just requires attention and not eating foods we once may have found great pleasure in.

It’s questionable whether we’d lose weight.  Often when folks cut something major out of their diets, the pounds seem to magically disappear.  But that’s usually because they end up with limited food choices and subsequently eat less.  That’s just not true with gluten-free anymore.

Indeed, if we over-partake of the growing number of gluten-free products on supermarket shelves, we could gain weight.  We may also be compromising nutrition.  According to Janet Helm, RD, writing on her blog Nutrition Unplugged, “Several studies have shown that people following a gluten-free diet, especially when relying on commercially prepared gluten-free foods, have diets low in iron, fiber, B vitamins, calcium and vitamin D.”

What I’m Not So Sure About

All that said, there is growing recognition that some folks may do better eliminating gluten from their diets.

Certainly, if you have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that damages the lining of the intestines and creates a host of serious health problems, going gluten-free is the only treatment.  That means cutting out all foods with wheat (including spelt) and  barley and rye.  It’s also usually recommended to cut out oatmeal because it’s often contaminated with gluten.

But many health professionals working in this area believe celiac may just be the final outcome of gluten intolerance.  “I am coming to the conclusion there is a spectrum of gluten intolerance, and celiac is an advanced endpoint,” says Linda Simon, RD.

How Do You Know for Sure?

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, it’s quite difficult to accurately diagnose celiac disease because the symptoms mimic those of other problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and even depression.  It involves a series of blood tests and potentially a biopsy of the lining of the small intestine.

Simon says the tests are often inconclusive, however. It’s estimated that one in 133 Americans suffer from celiac disease, and 95 percent go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.  Seems physicians are not well-educated about it, requiring patients to advocate for themselves.

Something similar may be required to diagnose a milder form of gluten intolerance.  That is, we may need to rely on what our bodies tell us.

The place to start is by identifying symptoms that seem related to gluten, such as those found on this checklist of celiac symptoms (and which don’t include weight gain).  Then cut out gluten, and see how you feel.

“There are lots of folks who “do better” on a gluten-free diet,” says Simon.  “They may be on to something.”

9 Responses (Add Yours)

  • Ask A Nurse says:

    Yes there is a lot of talking about these kinds of diet…and I am sure they are working too.

    Ask a Nurse

  • Riayn says:

    Solely as a way to lose weight, the gluten free diet is just the same as all the other fad diets out there. But if you have a medical problem like digestion and bowel issues going gluten free is definitely worth exploring to see if it will help elevate the symptoms you are experiencing.

    Riayn’s last blog post..What are your excuses not to diet?

  • Iris says:

    I gave up gluten about a month and a half ago to see if it would help diminish some of my IBS symptoms. While that hasn’t happened, I do feel less depressed. I’m not sure if that in my head or really because of the gluten, but I’m going to continue with it and see how it goes.

  • Marsha says:

    IMO, that’s a great way to go about it, Iris. It can get confusing if we have preconceived ideas about how something might affect us, but it seems that if the effect holds over time, then it’s probably more than “something in our heads.”

  • Mandy says:

    I would advise against cutting out gluten as a method of diagnosing celiac disease. If you do have celiac, and you cut out gluten, your blood will no longer have the antibodies that can help a doctor diagnose your condition. Also, if can take an adult celiac 2 years to heal from celiac damage. And a non celiac might feel better cutting out gluten if they switched to a whole foods diet at the same time, thereby damning themselves to a challenging life of gluten avoidance.

    Just some advice from a celiac who has been there.

  • Marsha says:

    You’re right, Mandy. Need to change only one thing at a time. And I’d definitely have it checked out first if you think you may be celiac. It’s the gray area that can get confusing — when tests show you aren’t celiac. Working with a health professional experienced in this area is probably very wise thing to do.

  • John says:

    Wow,

    As a partner of a Celiac (for real) it scares me that this short blog shows up in a simple google search. There is so much information about Celiac Disease out there and if anyone even remotely considers the posibility that they have the disease please redirect your query to http://www.celiac.org to get real answers. As an aside, My partner was 25 years old and 87 pounds (5’9″) when I met him and he had been diagnosed with Celiac three years prior. We’ve been together for 6 years now and he weighs a healthy 165 pounds and is very happy since I have been cooking for him.

    Gluten-Free does not equal weight loss in most cases!

  • Marsha says:

    Thanks for that comment, John. Just to be absolutely clear here:
    1) If celiac disease is suspected, work with a health professional to confirm whether you have it or not. Do NOT cut out gluten products before doing that as you need to be eating it for its effects to show up. If you have more questions, check out the organizations John and I suggested above.

    2) If your healthcare provider confirms you do not have celiac disease, but you believe you might not react positively to eating gluten, you may benefit from following an elimination diet to test your belief. Again, this is probably best done under the guidance of a health professional (aka registered dietitian who is experienced with elimination diets) in order to ensure that you get an accurate read on how you feel after eating a particular food/ingredient. Elimination diets can be hard to follow but they can provide valuable feedback if done properly.

  • “Glutten” free and new terms are introduced everyday…thanks for introducing the basics to us who are yet to know about them.

    Medical Tourism

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