Gluten-free diets have been promoted as a healthy approach to food. But what exactly is gluten, and do you need to avoid it for good health and weight loss?
What is gluten-free?
Gluten is the name given to a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale and oats. Gluten is what gives cereal products like bread and pasta their structure and texture as it helps bread rise and gives the dough an elasticity to hold it together.
What is the need for a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for people living with coeliac disease, a wheat allergy or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. For these people, it is essential to avoid all types of gluten as even small amounts can cause poor health outcomes. It is important for anyone who suspects they might be sensitive to gluten or have the coeliac disease to consult with their doctor and dietitian before removing gluten from the diet.
Gluten-free diet for health
For people without coeliac disease, a wheat allergy, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity or other gluten-related disorders (dermatitis herpetiformis or gluten ataxia), gluten is safe to eat. This means that gluten-containing foods can be included as part of a healthy balanced diet. In fact, many foods that contain gluten also contain other healthful nutrients.
When researchers looked at gluten-free diets they found the diets were low in fibre, iron, and calcium1. While some naturally gluten-free foods (such as fruit and vegetables) are also nutritious, other gluten-free foods can be lacking in nutrients, particularly processed gluten-free products.
Gluten-free for weight loss
While you can lose weight if you follow a gluten-free diet, simply cutting gluten is not a guarantee for weight loss. The research on gluten-free diets shows that for some people it may even cause weight gain2. This is particularly true if people rely on processed foods advertised as gluten-free that may also be higher in energy, sugar and fat. Many foods that contain gluten, such as whole grains, have been found to help people maintain a healthy weight3.
The bottom line
Gluten-free diets are necessary for those who have a medical reason to avoid gluten but otherwise aren’t needed. While gluten-free diets can be healthy, going gluten-free isn’t a guaranteed path to good health. Many gluten-containing foods can be part of a healthy balanced diet and can be included in a weight loss plan. In short, you don’t need to avoid gluten to lose weight.
- Niewinski MM. Advances in Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:661-672.
- Dickey W, Kearney N. Overweight in celiac disease: prevalence, clinical characteristics, and effect of a gluten-free diet. Am J Gastroenterol. 2006 Oct;101(10):2356-9.
- Williams PG, Grafenauer SJ, and O’Shea JE. Cereal grains, legumes, and weight management: a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence. Nutrition Reviews. 2008;66(4):171-82