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Does a Gluten-Free Diet Help You Lose Weight?

Should You Be Going Gluten-Free?

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration's rules about what can be called gluten-free were finally set in place, a standard that had been a year in the making. Now, a product labeled gluten-free must meet certain requirements, including ensuring any food that has been processed to remove gluten must not contain gluten levels over 20 parts per million. This is great news for those who are allergic to gluten, such as people with celiac disease, but should you reach for gluten-free goods even if you aren't?

Miley Cyrus, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Oprah Winfrey are just a few celebs who have touted the gluten-free lifestyle at some point. Because of its high-profile endorsements, many people believe that adopting a gluten-free diet can help them have more energy, lose weight, have clearer skin, and feel healthier overall, even when they have no idea what gluten is (which Jimmy Kimmel hilariously pointed out on his show). Gluten-free products have cropped up on supermarket shelves around the country, exponentially more than the prevalence of gluten sensitivities (which spells good news for those who used to search high and low for suitable foods!).

An opinion piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine, however, says that going on a gluten-free diet for nonmedical reasons is a waste of money, since many people invest in expensive gluten-free foods that end up containing more carbs, sugar, and calories than their gluten-filled counterparts. While only about eight to 12 percent of people buy gluten-free goods because they have a gluten intolerance — including the one in 133 who have celiac disease — one poll found that 35 percent of people asked thought that "gluten-free" meant healthier. And while it's true that giving up things like pizza, pasta, and bread does mean low-carb, buying products labeled gluten-free doesn't necessarily mean you'll be eating low-carb — the carbs and calories in all those gluten-free cookies and bagels are, unfortunately, still there.


Even so, one study did show a benefit to going gluten-free, even if you don't know you're intolerant. The study looked at over 3,000 individuals and found that those with a gluten sensitivity who didn't know about it had fewer gastrointestinal issues and general improvement of heath when they were placed on a gluten-free diet. But, as the authors warn, more research is necessary to find out if it could be something else in wheat flour, not gluten, that's causing the sensitivity in some people.

There's also a possible beneficial effect from just believing a gluten-free diet is helpful. Tennis pro Novak Djokovic famously went from loser to winner with what his trainer says is the result of a shift to a strict gluten-free diet, which has helped him lose weight and overcome mental blocks to vastly improve his game. And although the tennis star is allergic to gluten, his trainer says that other people may benefit from gluten-free diets, even if it's only due to a placebo effect, and some experts agree. "If you believe in a cause of your disorder, it becomes the cause," says David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University. "We see this in many different studies. If you believe it, you change your behavior in the direction of being cured."

It's true that it's important to realize that gluten-free doesn't equal low-carb or healthier. You won't necessarily lose weight from eating a gluten-free diet, and you'll just be restricting your diet for no reason. However, if you think you may have a gluten sensitivity, eliminating it from your diet may help you feel better (just make sure you stick to whole, unprocessed foods and fresh fruits and vegetables) — whether or not it's all in your head.

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siennagold siennagold 3 years

Why does it seem a lot of people are gluten-intolerant nowadays? This term is unheard of a couple of decades ago?

Goldenserenity Goldenserenity 4 years
Going gluten free does not mean to start shopping for the unhealthy type of foods that says "gluten free" on the box. Going gluten free means to totally stop eating any food that has wheat in it or any type of grains. People are in the habit if eating pizza's and cakes, and cookies, and breads, and when they go on a gluten free diet, they immediately start looking for replacement foods to eat junk. I totally gave up all foods with wheat and other grains. I eat only veggies and meat. That's it. I feel so much better!! Read the book "Wheat Belly; Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and find your Path Back to Health" Wheat is an addiction which is why people run out looking for the replacements. And, how is a gluten free diet a waste of money? Don't buy gluten free junk food and there is no money to waste.
Steve3255827 Steve3255827 5 years
Unfortunately, GF food is just another bandwagon with its attendant snake-oil salesmen foisting quick-result diets on an eager public. Those of us with celiac disease know there are not many easy choices, so for example, gf food can be packed with carbs just as much or more so than wheat-based foods, and you're not going to lose weight without being careful. There is no substitute for reading the packet and getting informed about what the ingredients mean.
Gluten2582648 Gluten2582648 5 years
  I've had doctors accuse me of being anorexic or depressed when I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me.  It was horrible with tons of pain and cramps.  Once I started my gluten free diet it changed my life!  
Niami Niami 5 years
As far as the issue with people thinking her as anorexic (stated in a different article elsewhere today), there are some with anorexia that say they have allergies to gluten or other foods and use that as an excuse to not eat or as a reason for why they are so thin. There was a recent article about girls that use those excuses.   If she truly has some sort of issue with gluten, then it's good that she's getting healthy.    If someone has been stuffing themselves with gluten filled pizzas and snacks and then suddenly start eating lean meats (or go meatless), fruits, veggies and limit the grains and any processed things...yes they are most likely going to lose weight and have a healthier glow.   I had lost 40 pounds in 2 months while eating around 4,000K calories a day (I was starving all the time) before I learned that I had Celiac. I was pretty sick. So I went gluten free, stopped eating out and started buying gluten-free goodies and the weight loss stopped and I started to gain weight back. This would have been good if I were thin to begin with, but nope. So now I only use the gluten free goodies (Udi's bread, Betty Crocker mixes, etc.) once in a while for treats.   The Udi's bread is awesome, however I freaked out when I compared a slice of it to my husband's healthy wheat and gluten filled bread and the Udi's was half the size but twice the calories!!!   The changes in my diet also helped control my type 2 diabetes and PCOS symptoms. I had been told by 3 doctors that I'd never have children again due to the PCOS. I made the changes to my diet, the symtoms went away and now I have a 2.5 year old son :)
clpatrick clpatrick 5 years
Shaunamom you are quite mislead. Normally I don't comment because everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but your post has some serious miscommunication.  1. No, conditions like Celiac disease are not completely understood...but neither are diabetes, essential hypertension or even the common migraine. Doctors (I'm a medical student) are NOT ignorant in diagnosing it: we look for specific signs of malabsorption and we understand exactly how the IgA tissue transglutaminase test works. I think you would benefit from some basic immunology. The current sensitivity and specificity of this test are in the 90% range, making false negatives very unlikely. The test is not flawed. The blood collection is not flawed - if it were, the lab would send it back and it would be repeated. This is commonplace. We do not rely on tests that are unpredictable and spewing this information is pure ignorance.    2. Yes, there are many gluten-related conditions that cannot be tested for. They are defined by patient-report symptoms with NEGATIVE tests - we don't think people are lying AT ALL. We just can't explain what they're feeling in any conclusive way and unfortunately can't help. I absolutely encourage patients to go gluten-free if they think their symptoms improve AND I can't find another cause. Unfortunately, most people have irritable bowel syndrome (20% of the American population was one estimate) and we have no cure for this syndrome and its unpredictability can be frustrating for most patients. I sympathize with people who try to find a specific cause for their digestive issues but it's not quite that easy most of the time. Non-celiac gluten intolerance has been known to exist for some time now. I have not found anything on your quoted "gluten ataxia" but Celiac itself can present with neurological symptoms in a small percentage of people. This would test positive for Celiac disease, however.    3. Patients would indeed be very harmed by your advice. I don't stop my patients from seeking alternative holistic treatments as long as it fulfils three things: 1. it doesn't hurt them, 2. it doesn't hurt others and 3. it doesn't leave them broke! We are so privileged to have access to fortified grains in our diet, without which, we would fall short on many vitamins and minerals (B12, vit D, magnesium etc...). Gluten-free options are not always best: they are usually made with white rice flour and potato flour, both of which are less nutritious than things like whole wheat, spelt and oats. This isn't the case for all gluten-free options, but I think consumers should be aware they could be cutting themselves short by refusing to eat gluten. Also, gluten-free products can be hugely expensive and I'd hate to see people investing in a $10 loaf of gluten free bread and not have enough money leftover for vegetables, lean meats/fish or dairy products.    I applaud your healthy choices but you should do a bit more research before making such outlandish claims. 
stilllearning2b stilllearning2b 5 years
I've been gluten free for 5 years due to intolerance.  Gluten free on its own does not make a healthy diet (as the 2 aisles of gluten free junk food in the "health food" store down my street can attest), but it can help by making many unhealthy foods off limits and/or too expensive.  My athletic frame is due to my plant-based diet and intense exercise program, not the fact I don't eat gluten.  It's important to focus on the diet as a whole, not simply the exclusion or inclusion of a particular item.
shaunamom shaunamom 5 years
I went gluten free due to celiac disease, but I don't eat processed gluten free foods. Instead, I eat fruits, veggies, and make everything else from scratch. It's a very healthy diet, when done that way. Three other people in my immediate family were also diagnosed with Celiac Disease. We have one more, my son, who is gluten free because everyone else in the family is eating that way. Even though he tested negative to Celiac DIsease, he had numerous problems disappear on the diet, like a hugely bloated gut, insomnia, and hours of uncontrollable tantrums.   And he's the reason I completely agree with Miley Cyrus that everyone should try the diet, because: 1. Conditions like Celiac Disease are not completely understood. Doctors frequently miss diagnosing it because they are ignorant of the symptoms and even how the tests work. Some doctors refuse to even test a patient because they don't believe the patient could possibly have the disease (even though silent celiac disease has few to no outward symptoms). And the tests for this disease have frequent false negatives, due to how they test AND due to doctor error and ignorance.  At this point, based on random testing, 97% of celiacs are undiagnosed. That's 97% of celiacs who would find out that the gluten free diet makes them better, if they just tried it out for a few weeks.   2. There are many gluten related conditions that there are NOT reliable tests for, if any tests at all. Non-celiac gluten intolerance was only shown (in the medical community) to exist last year in a peer-reviewed study. There are no tests for it other than diet change. Gluten ataxia, where antibodies attack your nervous system after ingestion of gluten, can be an issue with Celiac Disease but has also been shown to exist on its own and again, there are no tests for this except trying the diet and recording any change in symptoms. Anyone with these conditions would be helped if they would try the gluten free diet for a few weeks.   And lastly...all these folks wouldn't be HARMED if they tried the diet, as along as they are paying attention to their nutrition and eating healthy. This isn't like taking a drug with deleterious side effects; it's dropping 3 grains from the diet and in return, there's the possibility of eliminating physical illness. And if it doesn't have an effect, the only thing that changed was that you gained a new perspective on what it's like to be in someone else's shoes, and you gained the knowledge that you have the inner strength to stick to the diet for however long you decided to.   As long as you are simply making your own food rather than buying expensive replacements, there's really not a downside to trying it out.
jumpingamma jumpingamma 5 years
hello, vincent,  glad to hear that going gluten free is helping with the gastric trouble, you might want to have your doctor check for other allergies now. Also many gluten free products have xanthan gum in them this is a dirivative of corn. and a natural laxative. but check with your doctor, with going gluten free many people have alllergies to things other than gluten.hope this helps.
Vincent2421358 Vincent2421358 5 years
i've been on gluten free diet for some months now following a long period of various gastric disturbances during which i visited my doctor various times without any succes . somehow after going gluten free  all my gastric disturbances .started to fade gradually what's bothering me is i lost quite some weight
jumpingamma jumpingamma 5 years
i have hypothyroism, my daughter has celiacs my husband has ra , my daughter of course is gluten free has been for a few years, I myself just went gluten free a month ago along with my husband , already we are feeling the changes going on in the change, my husbands arthritis is eased up, don't know how it is effecting my thyroid yet will in a few months ,  I have already lost 20 lbs and have changed nothing  else in my diet but removing gluten, my husband is also losing weight, we did this because with our daughter having celiacs and knowing now that it runs in family and is often miss diagnosed we thought we would give it a try. now that we have we feel much better know that we are eatting healthier. i have shared information with others we know have auto amunine dieseases, I just think doctors should be sharing this information with thier patients more than they do. Thank you
sunnysidedown sunnysidedown 6 years
Good article! Having said that, I don't like the first couple of paragraphs. You make it sound as though "going" gluten-free is a fancy trend, or all in the mind. Gluten intolerance and celiac disease is a serious issue for an increasing number of people. So are other food allergies and intolerances. I am someone who does best staying away from wheat, and gluten. I also can not metabolize cow's milk products. While my allergic reactions have been scary, but so far not life threatening, there is no way to tell when that line is crossed. In recent years I had begun to find more understanding for my dietary needs. Articles like yours do nothing to help those of us on dietary restrictions. Please show some respect to those of us that have specific dietary needs.
amber512 amber512 6 years
Having to go gluten-free is kind of a pain, but even more so because I can't eat most gluten-free items anyway. Too many of them add xanthan gum, which wrecks havoc on my intenstines just as much.
ticamorena ticamorena 6 years
i'm very sympathetic to people who have to go gluten free due to an underlying medical problem (celiac disease or allergy) because i've had to forgo most milk products all my life due to lactose intolerance. i love variety in my food, and i did go gluten free for an extended period whilst trying to resolve some digestive problems i was having. i have re-introduced gluten, and many other things i restricted from my diet (other than lactose) and have since learnt that: (a) moderation (with food and everything else too!); (b) sleep; (c) exercise/being active all have a much greater beneficial impact on my digestion, my weight, my energy levels, my skin and all without having to adhere to a "regimen"
spicyhippofood spicyhippofood 6 years
I found that this diet has been very beneficial to me and has solved 99% of my intestinal problems; however I am at a crossroads here. I keep seeing "stay away from processed gluten free products". Although I generally don't eat the bagels and cookies, I do occasionally have udi's bread and the gluten free wraps. I have this gluten free crunchy flax cereal on many days. Sometimes I eat the Food For Life gluten free english muffins. So how much of those things should I restrict?
a-lee a-lee 6 years
I actually started going gluten-free because a friend of mine was allergic, and found the food still tasted pretty delicious.
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