The gluten-free diet has steadily gained in popularity in the United States over the last 5 years. The media and mass-marketing campaigns have portrayed the gluten-free diet as an effective tool for weight-loss. Instead of a medically necessary lifelong dietary change, it has turned into a fad diet for many people. Gluten-free products are now commonplace in the grocery store as well as popular menu items in restaurants. As gluten-free has become mainstream, many people have mistakenly been led to believe that it is an effective weight-loss program.
A gluten-free diet is medically prescribed to people suffering from Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the lining of the small intestine. The disease prevents the body from absorbing nutrients due to a response to gluten, a protein commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye. This results in digestive issues, such as stomach pain, gas and diarrhea, as well as fatigue and lack of energy. Since there is no medication or surgical options that offer a cure, a gluten-free diet is necessary for those suffering from Celiac disease. For people that are not affected by Celiac disease, there is no medical reason to go gluten-free. In fact, there is no scientific research that switching to a gluten-free diet will promote weight-loss.
A common misconception is that gluten-free means “fat-free” or “low-carb.” This is not the case. For example, beans, rice, and potatoes are gluten-free, but they are high in carbohydrates. Many products marked “gluten-free” actually contain extra fats, sugar, additives, and preservatives to add flavor. Smart eating requires always reading nutrition labels, and gluten-free products are no exception.
Of course, there are some things about the gluten-free diet that coincide with an effective weight-loss program. For example, gluten-free dieters drastically decrease their processed food consumption and increase their fruits and vegetables intake. This makes sense for any successful diet. Simple substitutions, like using lettuce leaves instead of sandwich bread, are great for weight-loss not because it is “gluten-free” but because of the decrease in carbohydrates intake. Another claim of the gluten-free diet is increased energy levels. But again, energy levels naturally increase when you follow a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet rich in whole, real foods.
As always, the message is clear when it comes to nourishing your body. Real, whole food always wins in the nutrition category regardless of what creative marketing tries to make you believe!