Celebrities, athletes, maybe even your next-door neighbor: Nearly everyone seems to be going gluten-free these days. You may have also heard about the weight loss many devotees say accompanies their new diet. Could giving gluten the boot help your medical weight loss program?
First, let’s talk a bit about what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found mainly in rye, wheat, and barley. Therefore, foods like pasta, cereals, bread, and other baked goods generally contain gluten. There are two main types of conditions characterized by an inability to tolerate gluten: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is an autoimmune, inherited condition. It can cause a variety of wide-ranging conditions, from anemia to osteoporosis to migraines. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance) is not autoimmune, and generally includes symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and gas.
For unknown reasons, it appears that an increasing percentage of people are developing gluten sensitivity or outright celiac disease. For both those with gluten sensitivity and celiac, removing all gluten in the diet is recommended.
But what about the population that’s not gluten sensitive or living with celiac? For these individuals, going gluten-free may actually not be advised. Foods that contain gluten are also often good sources of nutrients like vitamins and trace elements, and beneficial dietary components like fiber. Narrowing the variety in your diet can also lead to consuming fewer essential nutrients.
And it’s this limiting of foods in your diet—rather than anything miraculous in gluten—that likely accounts for any weight loss that may accompany going gluten-free. However, as food manufacturers jump on the bandwagon, offering gluten-free versions of all your favorite foods, losing weight on a gluten-free diet may become more difficult, simply because of all the other food products available. Calories are calories, and that’s what largely determines your weight.
So, much like other too-good-to-be true weight-loss fixes, going gluten-free likely isn’t going to be a miracle pound-shedding solution for you. The bottom line: If you suspect you might have celiac, get tested and find out. But don’t use the gluten-free diet as a weight-loss approach. Focus instead on eating a variety of minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, lean meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables. This, combined with your medical weight loss plan and sensible regular exercise, is the best solution for lasting weight loss.
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