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Healthy Diets: Why Gluten Isn’t the Enemy

September 2, 2014


Before we jump into this hot topic, let’s get one thing straight: celiac disease is a serious condition affecting an estimated 1 percent of the population. For those diagnosed with celiac disease, a 100 percent gluten-free diet is the only treatment. If you have celiac disease or suffer from a gluten allergy, you’ve likely already eliminated gluten from your diet and should continue to avoid it.

That said, the rest of us may be wondering if going gluten-free is an effective way to lose weight.  Popular books and articles have questioned whether wheat and other grains are weighing us down. It’s true that large portions of pasta and bread contribute to weight gain, but trading a big bowl of pasta for something that’s gluten-free doesn’t always mean we’ve made the right choice. Spoiler alert: French fries are gluten-free, but they’re high in fat and empty calories, leaving you hungry for more.

Going gluten-free is a major dietary change, and so it’s important to make an informed decision you jump into a new way of eating that may not be right for you.

Here are three things you need to understand about gluten before you dismiss it.

Gluten Isn’t a “Food Group”

Many people associate gluten with bread, but going “gluten free” doesn’t just mean going without your favorite breakfast bagel.

Gluten is actually a collection of proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It’s most commonly found in pastas, breads and baked goods, but also pops up in many soups, salad dressings and sauces as a thickening agent. So, gluten isn’t just wheat, but it also certainly isn’t all carbohydrates.

Gluten Isn’t Inherently Bad for You

It is entirely possible to eat gluten daily and maintain a healthy diet. If you’re eating a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables and foods rich in calcium and you’re eating them in reasonable portions, you can continue to eat gluten in moderation.

Gluten isn’t harmful to most people unless they have celiac disease, a gluten allergy or a sensitivity to it.

A small percentage of people are allergic to wheat (which contains gluten). They may experience skin problems, trouble breathing, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Others have a sensitivity to gluten, which is more common but less understood. They may experience symptoms that look a lot like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and sometimes IBS is actually the real culprit.

If you’re having a lot of bloating or other bowel problems after eating certain foods, take note of the triggers and see if curbing your consumption of them makes you feel better. You may discover the problem isn’t gluten, but a sensitivity to another type of food, such as dairy products.

Going Gluten-Free Won’t Necessarily Help You Lose Weight

While many foods that contain gluten are high in calories by nature, giving them up won’t necessarily help you lose weight. If you don’t have to give up gluten for medical reasons, placing unnecessary restrictions on your diet is more likely to make you feel deprived and binge later to make up for it.

When trying to lose weight, it’s best to look at the big picture, rather than obsessing over one type of food. It’s more important to consider portion control, total fat and calorie content, and whether you’re getting the nutrients you need to feel satisfied from the foods you eat. Weight loss all comes down to burning more calories than you’re taking in, so make sure you’re incorporating plenty of exercise into your routine as well.

Have you tried going gluten-free or following a fad diet that didn’t work? Find out why with our free guide, “The Truth About Fad Diets.”