You 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.”