The Gluten-free craze is one of the most popular dieting and weight loss trends since the turn of the century.
But, in reality, it’s probably not necessary for most of us and may even be harmful.
A little background on Gluten before we explain why you may not really need to worry about it.
What is Gluten? And why do we love it?
Gluten is a protein composite that gives wheat products like bread and cereal their chewy, flexible texture. It is found in most modern-day carbs and humans have been consuming it, in some form, for thousands of years.
So why did we break-up with bread?
In the early 2000s, cardiologist Dr. William Davis began advocating against gluten and wheat, a concept that quickly caught on with celebrities and others in the health space.
Dr. Davis’ 2011 book, “The Wheat Belly” quickly became a New York Times bestseller, and the gluten-free diet has inserted itself into pop culture ever since.
The Expert Truth About the Gluten-Free Diet
Here’s the thing: most people eating a gluten-free diet don’t need to be, and may actually be harming themselves.
A gluten-free diet should only be used by people who have celiac disease — an autoimmune disease where the body mounts an immune response to gluten, causing stomach pain, indigestion, diarrhea, bloating, gas and even osteoporosis. And, in reality, just 1 percent of the population actually has celiac disease.
“There is no harm with whole wheat unless you have the disease,” says Dr. Gabe Mirkin, fitness guru, long-time radio host and sports medicine doctor with more than 50 years of practice.
Mirkin is one of thousands of health experts who have come out against the idea of leveraging a gluten-free diet for health and weight loss.
In fact, he says people who eat whole wheat are actually better off.
“Virtually everybody agrees that people who eat a lot of wheat, these people live longer, have less cancer, fewer heart attacks, diabetes, etc.,” Mirkin says. “Whole grains prevent disease. That’s what all the literature supports.”
For example, on his website, Mirkin points to two studies published this year showing that gluten-free diets cause nutritional deficiencies:
The study in Clinical Nutrition (May 7, 2016) reviewed scientific studies published between 1990 and 2015 and found that most gluten-free diets:
- Lacked fiber because low-fiber foods made from sugars, starches and refined flours were substituted for fiber-rich foods made from whole grains;
- Lacked vitamins B12 and folate, and minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium; and
- Contained more high glycemic load foods and larger amounts of saturated and hydrogenated fats.
The study in The Journal of Pediatrics (May 13, 2016), from researchers at Dalhouse University in Canada, found that when given to children, gluten-free processed foods could cause:
- Delayed growth and development because they often lack essential nutrients (the B vitamins, fiber, calcium, magnesium and iron); and
- Weight gain because they are usually low in fiber and higher in sugar, other refined carbohydrates and fats.
Whoa, hold up a second.
Does that second study show that gluten-free diets can actually cause weight GAIN? Then why have so many of us been led to believe that gluten-free diets are a way to lose weight?
That’s a common misconception, Mirkin says.
“Yes, people who avoid flour and refined carbs can lose weight,” Mirkin says. “But the difference is between a whole grain and a ground grain, like flour.”
Processed flour, he says, can cause weight gain because it’s the result of wheat being ground up and refined into an ingredient that has little to no nutritional value (mostly to retain shelf life). That’s different than whole grains, which retain their fiber and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium.
People do lose weight when they intentionally cut out gluten but it’s not because of the gluten, per se but rather that they have cut out things like cupcakes, chips, crackers, high-sugar cereals and the like. They lose weight because they’ve eliminated the refined flour — not the gluten.
So, wait, can I eat wheat or not?
According to the Whole Grains Council, when looking for a whole grain product, you should look at the list of ingredients to make sure it says; whole grain, whole wheat, whole wheat flour, and stone-ground whole wheat.
Processed wheat such as; wheat flour, semolina, durum wheat, organic flour and enriched flour (anything that doesn’t include the word “whole”), should only be consumed in moderation. If you find yourself at a bakery or restaurant where you don’t have access to an ingredients list, try to be conscious of the calorie content and portion so that your waistline doesn’t suffer.
Is a gluten-free diet right for you?
The best thing to do is to ask your doctor to give you an immunoglobulin A anti-tissue transglutaminase antibody (IgA TTG) test.
“If the test comes back negative, then it is extremely unlikely you have celiac disease and need a gluten-free diet,” Mirkin says.
If you feel like you react to gluten and may have an intolerance to it, cut it out for 3 months and then slowly feed it back into your diet. Make sure you take a good probiotic during the elimination and re-introduction phase so that your gut bacteria can assist with proper digestion and perhaps heal any damage you may have to your gut lining.
If you’re interested in cutting out refined flour and breads from your diet as a way to lose weight, take a look at Daily Dietitian’s Low Carb Diet instead, we will make things easy and delicious for you.