It is hard to miss the media stories about celebrities going gluten-free feeling healthier and losing weight. There are valid reasons for going gluten-free, celiac (coeliac) disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity being the most common. But does cutting out gluten actually result in weight loss?
Choosing to go gluten free solely to lose weight really over complicates things.
Most fast foods, cookies, cakes and snacks contain wheat (gluten) as well as sugars/ simple carbohydrates and are also high in fat which means they contain a lot of energy/calories. Eliminating gluten from the diet can be the catalyst to eat more fresh, minimally processed, whole foods which is likely to improve the quality of the diet and of course improve health.
When the energy dense foods are replaced with more fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole fresh foods, this change could certainly result in some weight loss and feeling healthier. But this it is due to cutting back on the energy dense foods lacking in nutrients, not due to ditching the gluten.
On the other hand, if wheat is replaced with highly processed gluten-free substitutes, the diet quality will not have improved and the scales may go up instead of down.
Some people who have celiac disease may notice some weight gain when they go gluten-free
Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to the gluten found in wheat, rye and barley which causes damage to the lining of the small intestine and can impede people from absorbing nutrients from food. People newly diagnosed with coeliac disease may have substantial damage to the lining of their small bowel. After being strictly gluten-free for a few months, when their bowel lining heals they are able to absorb all the nutrients in their food again and often find that they can gain some weight initially.
This phenomenon is frequently observed in the celiac clinic and not everybody welcomes weight gain! With a focus on keeping physically active and making vegetables and fruits the main part of your meal, choosing lean protein and gluten-free whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, certified gluten-free oats, buckwheat should stabilize weight gain.
Carbohydrates are not the enemy
Including whole grains (unrefined carbohydrates) in the diet has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. When choosing carbohydrates, go for the wholegrain, slow burn variety and watch your portions. For people who can tolerate wheat, whole wheat is a good source of fiber, protein, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, manganese, selenium, B vitamins, folic acid and omega 3 essential fatty acids.
Going gluten-free does not necessarily always mean ‘healthier’ and help manage weight– we still need to consider getting the overall balance right and just focusing on one nutrient or food constituent will not do that.
If weight loss is your goal, get the balance right by making vegetables the biggest part of your meal, aim for half your plate or bowl. Most of us don’t eat enough. On the rest of your plate go for a quarter lean meat, eggs, fish or beans or tofu and a quarter whole grains/ sweet potato. Choose a healthy fat such as olive oil.
If you do decide to experiment with the gluten-free diet – it is imperative to get tested properly first. Please visit Gluten Free Singapore for information on symptoms, testing, diagnosis and local medical practitioners.
Bridget Marr is a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist with over 20 years clinical experience. Bridget graduated as a Dietitian from King’s College, University of London and worked in hospitals in London, Singapore & Malaysia.