By T. Miller, Intern
Maybe you heard your friend, your neighbor or your mailman lost weight when they started following a gluten free eating plan and you’re wondering “Can I drop a few pounds if I take gluten out of my diet?”
The short answer is: it depends…
You might lose weight if…
- you decrease your carbohydrate intake overall
Some people start out on their gluten-free journey by completely eliminating all baked goods. This will automatically decrease the carbohydrate content of the diet, resulting in a low-carb diet that happens to also be gluten-free. Lots of people lose weight on low-carb diets, so it’s not surprising that this technique works. However, it may not be sustainable.
- you start eating more whole foods instead of packaged/processed foods
Starting a gluten-free diet might help people focus on the quality of food choices that they are making. For example, a person might reach for an apple instead of a brownie. In most cases, an eating plan that’s centered around whole foods (fruits, vegetables, gluten-free whole grains and lean protein sources) is going to naturally contain more fiber, less fat and fewer calories than one packed with highly processed foods. All of these factors can contribute to weight loss.
You might gain weight if…
- you are simply making food swaps
Market research firm Mintel found that about 65% of American consumers choose gluten-free products because they think these foods are healthier; 27% choose them because they think the foods will help them lose weight. The problem with this idea is that gluten-free foods are not necessarily lower in calories. For example, gluten-free cookies can be higher in fat and calories than their gluten-containing counterparts (they are also typically lower whole grains and fiber because they are made with starches and highly refined flour). While you are looking at your gluten-free labels, make a point to check the Nutrition Facts label for calorie and fat content–you might be surprised by what you find.
- if your gut function improves and you’re better nourished
A gluten-free diet for a celiac disease or gluten intolerance patient is required. With this diet gut function and absorption improves, and naturally leads to weight gain in some people. Interestingly, some studies of people with celiac disease who were overweight when they were diagnosed show that the majority of them (82%) actually gain weight while eating gluten-free.
Bottom line: Don’t rely on a gluten-free diet to lose weight, there is no scientific evidence that suggests you will drop pounds and there’s no real benefit to a gluten-free diet unless you are diagnosed with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.