- Many people confuse the gluten-free diet for a weight-loss diet.
- Some people need gluten-free diets because they are intolerant or sensitive to the protein commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley.
- A gluten-free diet is not necessarily healthier than a normal diet, which is often why it’s not linked with weight loss.
You may have heard the term “gluten-free” lately, but are likely a little confused about what exactly gluten is.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is a protein found in cereal grains like wheat, rye, and barley. Unfortunately, because “gluten-free” is often followed by the word “diet,” many people have equated a gluten-free diet with a weight-loss diet, which it is not.
People who live by a gluten-free diet do so because they have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. A gluten-free diet simply means a diet that is free from gluten.
The reason you’re not losing weight on a gluten-free diet is that you’re not supposed to, much in the same way that you wouldn’t lose weight on a peanut-free diet because of a peanut allergy.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of “Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table,” explained to INSIDER that “you’re not losing weight [because] gluten-free doesn’t mean that it is low in fat or low in calories or low in sodium. It doesn’t really mean that it’s healthy just because it doesn’t have gluten in it.”
Or as David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM and author of the book “The Truth about Food: Why Pandas Eat Bamboo and People Get Bamboozled” put it, “gluten-free, per se, tells you nothing about the overall nutritional quality.”
Many people confuse “diet” with “dietary restrictions”
Yes, it’s called a “gluten-free diet,” but more accurately, it is a dietary restriction. Because of the prevalence of gluten-free food in the news and celebrities who talk up their “gluten-free diets,” many individuals mistakenly think that it’s a new weight loss diet when it’s not.
“Gluten-free became so popular in the news,” Dr. Taux-Dix explained, “and when something is in the headlines – especially for people that haven’t been successful on other diets – they just want to be the hummingbird of diets and jump on this one too.”
Dr. Taub-Dix also added that people often mistakenly conflate “gluten-free diet” with “weight loss diet” because people falsely equate the word “free” with “low calories” and “diet” with “weight loss.”
In actuality, the only people who need a gluten-free diet are those with gluten intolerances (i.e. celiac disease) or those with a sensitivity to it (i.e. IBS, migraines, etc).
Gluten-free is confused for a carb-free diet
There have been many variations on the “carb-free” diet over the years – the Atkins diet, for example – many of which reportedly helped people lose weight, but gluten-free is not carb-free. Because gluten is in all bread products, people have conflated it with what they traditionally call “carbs.”
“[Gluten-free] does not mean that it’s calorie free or even carb free,” Dr. Taub-Dix stated.
Going gluten-free is not healthier for you
If you don’t have a gluten sensitivity, there is no real reason to avoid it – in fact, avoiding gluten when you have no reason to do so, can actually hurt your health.
“There are many good and bad foods with and without gluten,” according to Dr. Katz. “But that simply means that cutting gluten makes no sense unless you are sensitive to gluten. There are far better ways to improve your diet, because cutting gluten could very well lower the overall quality of the diet, by taking out whole grains, and replacing them with gluten-free junk.”
Whole grains are often the biggest missing piece in gluten-free diets, which provide b vitamins and fibre – something that most gluten-free “grain” substitutes cannot.
Dr. Katz said, for example, that “whole wheat bread will be at least as nutritious, and often more so than any gluten-free counterpart.” Plus, Dr. Katz added that when someone goes on a gluten-free diet, they consume less fibre overall, and fibre plays an important role in weight loss.
In fact, most gluten-free bread varieties are made with a combination of potato and tapioca starches, xanthan gum, and other flour alternatives that contain very little nutritional value, whereas the whole grains found in “normal bread” are natural sources of fibre.
There is so much gluten-free “junk food” available now
There are now so many gluten-free junk food substitutes that are just as unhealthy in large doses as the real thing “
“Gluten-free doughnuts and gluten free candy and gluten free cookies are not exactly healthy foods just because they don’t have gluten in it,” said Dr. Taub-Dix.
Oftentimes, gluten-free individuals might feel deprived of the snacks they used to enjoy, so they overeat with gluten-free junk food. In fact, Dr. Katz says that the food industry knows that gluten-free individuals feel deprived and do everything to serve them the cookies, cakes, and crackers they used to love but in new gluten-free form.
At the end of the day, Dr. Katz put it simply: “There is no reason to cut gluten for weight loss. None. Zero. Cutting gluten means no whole grain oats or wheat, two highly nutritious foods, good for both health and weight control.”
When you see a product in the store labelled “gluten-free,” all that means is that there is no gluten in it, which is an indicator to individuals who are allergic or sensitive to it.
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