Going completely gluten-free isn’t the healthiest way to lose weight: experts
Cutting out gluten from your diet to lose a few pounds is not impossible — if your diet is heavy on processed foods with gluten, eating less of it can result in weight loss.
But this isn’t a healthy way to lose weight, and with the popularity of the gluten-free diet for those who are not allergic to gluten, experts say people need to reevaluate what they’re eating in general.
“There’s very little scientific evidence to support the benefit of a gluten-free diet in anything except celiac disease,” Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, told Business Insider.
“We actually think that a gluten-free diet is not a very healthy diet, and that’s for a whole bunch of reasons. On a gluten-free diet, individuals have to avoid wheat, rye, and barley, and anything that’s derived from them.”
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Gluten-free for the sake of being gluten-free
Andy De Santis, a registered dietitian based in Toronto, says when you cut out a large food group, including food with gluten, you compromise your health and nutritional balance.
“There are a number of high fibre, nutrient-dense whole grain foods that contain gluten. Great examples are whole grain barley, wheat, rye, couscous etc.,” he tells Global News. “The other contradictory concern is that these are fibre rich foods which will help keep you feeling satiated and thus contribute to weight management.”
He adds another issue of eliminating large food groups is most people don’t have a good understanding of what healthy eating really is.
“You may have success because of the number of gluten-containing foods you used to eat, but what happens when you want to eat those foods and still manage your weight? You will probably end up lacking the skills and understanding you need.”
Gluten is a protein that helps food maintain its shape, says Anar Allidina, a registered dietitian based in Richmond Hill, Ont.
“It is not a smart idea to follow a gluten-free diet to lose weight since gluten-free packaged foods have more sugar and fat to make up for the gluten that is being removed. The problem comes when people rely on gluten-free products,” she tells Global News. “If people rely on packaged gluten-free foods this can actually end up with weight gain.”
She adds people don’t realize a majority of unhealthy food doesn’t have gluten in it to begin with. This includes potato chips, ice cream, candy and some fried food.
And instead of cutting back on all gluten, get rid of the food that is unhealthy — like cake, cookies, muffins and refined grains like white bread, De Santis says.
Popularity of gluten-free diets
Researchers in 2016 found gluten-free diets, in particular, were on the rise in the United States, even though celiac rates in the country remained stable.
A report from October by Canadian nutrition researchers found celiac disease itself is undiagnosed because the gluten-free diet is so popular among people who don’t have the disease.
De Santis says people, and the media, love stigmatizing food.
“We are always looking for a villain or a scapegoat instead of focusing on the bigger picture,” he says. “The problem is, once you’ve heard something overwhelmingly negative about a food or food component, it can be very difficult to reverse your perception.”
And if you want to lose weight or eat a healthier diet, it’s simple: just eat healthy. Gluten is not the sole cause of weight gain, De Santis says, but he also understands people want to cut it out to see results. Always talk to your doctor or a health professional if you are thinking about changing your diet drastically.
“At the end of the day, if going gluten-free will make you happy, do it. Just make sure you do it in a proper, balanced way.”
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