Gluten-Free Weight Loss: Explained

Published:
Sep 2, 2020
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Updated:
Jun 4, 2021
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Contributor:
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5 Minutes

Medically reviewed by

Erica Dermer
Erica DermerErica Dermer
Consumer & Patient Engagement at imaware™
Erica is as a food & wellness expert with an established reputation as a celiac & autoimmune disease influencer. Writing, editing, appearing on TV and publishing her own book, Erica campaigns and supports those with autoimmune diseases.
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Stefano Guandalini, MD
Stefano Guandalini, MD
Professor Emeritus at University of Chicago
Dr Guandalini is the former chief of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at the University of Chicago, founder of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center and head of the clinical advisory team at imaware™.
Learn about our content process

Adopting a gluten-free diet has become a popular diet trend in the last five or so years. Originally, this medical diet was developed to help those diagnosed with celiac disease. However, the gluten-free diet has now been adopted by a number of people that far exceed those that have actually been diagnosed with celiac disease.

People with celiac disease have a permanent intolerance to gluten, and going gluten-free is for them the only way to help manage symptoms like bloating, cramping, diarrhea, headaches, anemia, and the 300 and more symptoms linked to the disease. The diet is, in most cases, very effective in reducing these symptoms and their severity. It is the best and only way to currently manage celiac disease and reduce its impact on their lives.

However, many people are now adopting the diet without any legitimate medical advice. They have not been told by a professional that they have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, or that gluten is unhealthy for them. They have not been diagnosed with any disease that would cause an issue with gluten.

Does going gluten-free help you lose weight?

Why are people who don’t have celiac disease switching to a gluten-free diet of their own free will? Well, most people cite the reason for the diet as weight loss and general health. But does going gluten-free actually facilitate weight loss and a healthy diet?

As it turns out, it does not.

There is no evidence to support that a gluten-free diet leads to weight loss.

In some cases, a gluten-free diet can actually lead to weight gain. People with celiac disease who go gluten-free can easily gain weight once they start a gluten-free diet. If a person with celiac had weight loss and anemia as symptoms, they are likely to gain weight on a gluten-free diet, due to an improved intestinal digestion and absorption. On the contrary, people who do not have celiac disease and go gluten-free can experience weight gain from gluten-free foods and as a result of an imbalanced diet.

Just because a food is gluten-free does not mean it’s healthy. In fact, many gluten-free foods have more calories, more sugar and more fat than their gluten-containing counterparts. To compensate for flavor or missing ingredients, gluten-free foods can often be nutritionally worse for the body.

So why do people lose weight on a gluten-free diet?

According to The Cleveland Clinic, the reason that some people experience healthy weight loss when they take on a gluten-free diet is simply that they eat more fruits, vegetables, and healthier foods than when they were on their previous diet. A gluten-free diet also means that you can’t eat a lot of fast food, junk food or processed food. 

People who adopt this diet also tend to be more mindful of nutrition labels and are more informed about the contents of their food. With so-called ‘bad’ foods being cut out of your diet and more room for healthier, or more nutritionally-dense foods, weight loss can happen.

However, this same weight loss can happen from simply limiting junk food, eating a balanced diet, and being mindful of the contents of your food. A balanced diet can include gluten. Gluten is in foods that are a great source of vitamins and nutrients that are good for your body. Those foods can also be a good source of filling and nutritious fiber. Making smart choices without eliminating gluten completely can have better results than a completely gluten-free diet.

Risks To A Gluten Free Diet

One reason that a gluten-free diet can be a bad idea is that it’s harder to eat a balanced diet without gluten. Studies show that people who have celiac disease and follow a gluten-free diet have a hard time getting enough whole grains in their diet. Only about 1% of people were eating the recommended amount of grains, and 80% of people were eating less than half the recommended amount.

A restrictive nutrient diet should not be your first choice for losing weight. For people with celiac disease, this diet is mandatory in order to improve quality of life and avoid long-term health issues. For people without celiac disease, a restrictive diet is unnecessary stress on their health. It can also be costly! Manufactured gluten-free foods are notoriously more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts.

Some risks of a gluten-free diet also include:

  • Lack of fiber: Getting fiber is a whole lot easier when your diet includes foods that have gluten in them. Although many breads, like white bread, are processed and not particularly beneficial to your body, eating wheat bread is one of the easiest ways to get the recommended amount of fiber in your diet. Those with celiac disease need to search to find fortified grains and seek higher-fiber products.
  • Increased risk of type two diabetes: Fiber and other vitamins and nutrients found in gluten-containing foods help to protect the body against Type 2 diabetes. Choosing healthy foods that contain gluten helps to create a balanced diet to improve your overall health.
  • Lack of essential vitamins and nutrients: There is a long list of vitamins and nutrients that you can easily get from foods that contain gluten. When you cut out gluten completely, it’s harder to get these vitamins and nutrients, as many gluten-free products are not fortified with these added vitamins and nutrients. You have to be extremely mindful of the food that you eat to create that balance without gluten-containing foods.
  • Weight Gain: As discussed, weight gain is a risk of a gluten-free diet which goes to show just how ineffective a gluten-free diet really is. High sugar content, high calories, and high fat content can be found in many gluten-free foods.

These risks of a gluten-free diet are of course acceptable for those who have been diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. These risks pose a challenge that they will have to work to overcome, but it’s preferable to living with constant digestive issues and pain, and for celiac disease is a necessary choice. As someone with celiac disease, the gluten-free diet is the only medical treatment for celiac disease currently.

Summary

Taking on a gluten-free diet without a celiac disease diagnosis opens individuals up to these risks and struggles without any real benefit. There are other ways to achieve the same effects without the added stress and challenges.

If healthy weight loss is what you’re after, going gluten-free is not the best option. Weight loss that is achieved from a gluten-free diet is often unhealthy, and cutting gluten from your diet is counterintuitive for a balanced diet.

Before beginning a gluten-free diet, please seek medical advice. Never embark in a gluten-free diet before being adequately tested for celiac disease! If you’re concerned about your health especially when eating gluten rich foods, get tested for celiac disease with imaware’s home screening test.

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