December 22, 2020

The Surprising Truth About Gluten-Free Food and Weight Loss

Questions and answers about eating a gluten-free diet

gluten free lunch with lettuce wraps

Gluten-free diets are the latest craze for those looking to lose weight, but what’s the truth? Is gluten responsible for your love handles? The answer is no, but let’s dig deeper as to why with registered dietitian Mia DiGeronimo.

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What is gluten and celiac disease?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and countless processed foods including pasta, breads, and cereals. Some people avoid gluten because they have celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that happens when the body’s immune response to gluten damages the small intestine lining. This can result in abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and weight loss. Some other symptoms of celiac disease include dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy, painful skin rash), anemia, loss of bone density, headaches, fatigue, and joint pain.

Other people avoid gluten because of gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance mimics symptoms of celiac disease without the immune response.

Is there a connection between gluten and weight loss?

No. There’s absolutely no evidence that simply getting rid of gluten will result in weight loss. But if you eat a gluten-free diet you may make healthier food choices because you’re more aware of how to read food labels.

Eating gluten-free often may cause you to eat more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and lean meats. These diet changes are often healthier and lower in calories.

“Ditching the double cheeseburger and fries for a gluten-free meal of salad, chicken breast, and potato is choosing a meal that is much lower in calories which can lead to weight loss over time,” says DiGeronimo.

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Aren’t all gluten-free foods healthy?

Gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy because all gluten-free foods are not equally nutritious.

“An apple and a gluten-free sugar cookie are both gluten-free, but their nutrients vary drastically,” DiGeronimo says.

Grocery and health food stores are full of gluten-free cakes, cookies and sweet treats. These foods often are high in sugar and fat, making them dense with calories. Be sure to read those food labels!

I don’t have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Is it safe to avoid gluten?

Absolutely! Some people choose to follow a gluten-free diet merely because it provides structure to eating healthier and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

DiGeronimo says, “It’s safe, but not necessary. Gluten free foods tend to lack certain vitamins/minerals and fiber.”

Just remember to consume a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and legumes to avoid vitamin/mineral deficiencies and promote a healthy weight and lifestyle.

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The bottom line

Gluten-free diets are typically consumed by those who are unable to tolerate gluten on a biological level. However, some people choose to follow a gluten-free diet for more healthful eating.

There’s no harm in avoiding gluten, but remember to consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and legumes. Make sure your gluten-free choices are still 100% whole grain, such as buckwheat, quinoa or brown rice.

“You lose weight when you expend more calories or energy than you consume – not by avoiding gluten,” DiGeronimo says.

Diet and exercise are both important components of weight management and a healthy lifestyle. If you want more specific help losing weight, consider making an appointment with a registered dietitian.

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