In the past few years, gluten-free options have appeared on store shelves. Many have sung the praises of a gluten-free lifestyle as the answer to years of digestive issues or weight loss struggles, making others wonder if they too might be sensitive to gluten and should adopt what appears to be a positive change to their diet.
Not so fast…
A gluten-free diet is great for some people, but is not a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. Read on to learn more about what gluten-free food really entails, and how a gluten-free label doesn’t necessarily mean the food is healthy.
What is Gluten?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is “a general name for the proteins found in wheat (durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.”
People who have a true sensitivity to gluten have a condition called Celiac disease. It is an auto-immune disorder that causes the ingestion of gluten to damage to the small intestine. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 1% of the population has Celiac disease, and roughly 10% have a “less specific” sensitivity to it.
For the small percentage of the population who have Celiac disease or a diagnosed gluten sensitivity, cutting out gluten makes vast improvements to their health. For everyone else, the research is still fuzzy on what improvements, if any, cutting gluten from a diet can have.
Some people have reported losing weight while on a gluten-free diet, but studies suggest that cutting unnecessary carbs and sugar are likely the real cause of improvements to energy and lost pounds. Many people who do not have Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity think they are doing themselves a favor by choosing processed gluten-free foods because they are inherently healthier.
Unfortunately for snackers and sweet tooths, gluten-free does not mean a free pass to eat processed foods as much as they like. There’s a number of reasons why eating gluten-free could actually result in weight gain.
“People can definitely lose weight if they eat a lot of bagels and pasta and muffins and they just remove those from their diet. But it’s not because they’re gluten-free; it’s because they removed a lot of calories. If they replace those with gluten-free muffins and pasta and bagels, they’re not going to lose weight, because that stuff has the same – if not more – calories than the gluten-containing products.”
Learn more about the gluten-free problem in this video by the Economist, which sums up the issue perfectly by stating, “A gluten free cake is still a cake.”:
The takeaway: follow the science and use hard facts when deciding if the gluten-free lifestyle is right for you. If you suspect you might have Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, ask your doctor to test you for these conditions. Ultimately, overindulging on sweets and carbs will not be beneficial for your health, gluten-free or not.