This article was submitted by me as part of a final exam for the Nutrition and Health Part 1: Macronutrients and Overnutrition from edx.org and Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
Gluten free has become a buzz word that is often mistaken for healthy food. The term is also used as a marketing tactic to sell more product, however it often shows up on naturally gluten free foods as well, which can lead to confusion.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body reacts negatively to gluten, characterized by the flattening and inflammation of the villi in the intestines, thus preventing the digestion and absorption of nutrients. A gluten free diet is a lifelong prescription for individuals with Celiac disease.
Certain other conditions, especially those affecting the digestive system such as IBS, IBD (Colitis and Crohn’s disease), and other autoimmune diseases can also be attributed to gluten sensitivity, which leads to leaky gut syndrome, which in turn leads to a compromised immune system. See “Your Gut on Gluten” by Dr. Amy Myers: http://www.amymyersmd.com/2016/05/your-gut-on-gluten/
For these particular conditions, gluten should be avoided. Weight loss can be a side effect of cutting gluten from the diet, but it all depends on what the gluten containing foods are replaced with. In general, choosing a labeled gluten free product at the store over its gluten containing counterpart is not always the best option, especially for weight loss. The reason for this is that processed junk food is still processed junk food, white bread is still refined and bleached grains, gluten free grains often lack nutritional value, baked items often contain more starches, and the fat and sugar contents are generally higher to compensate for palatability.
Weight loss often happens in people diagnosed with the above conditions because of the lack of nutrients absorbed, combined with frequent trips to the toilet. Eating processed gluten free foods and falling for the hype can actually keep you, or make you fat. When replacing nutrient dense wheat flour with rice flour commonly used in many gluten free items, other ingredients need to be added to mimic the same taste and mouth feel. These ingredients include; starches, gums, sugars, artificial or refined, artificial colors or flavors, and fat. According to nutrition researcher, Kris Gunnars, sugar is a bigger culprit in weight gain than fat itself; “4 Ways Sugar Can Make You Fat” https://authoritynutrition.com/4-ways-sugar-makes-you-fat/
A much better way to lose weight on a so-called gluten free diet is to eat foods that are naturally gluten free. Vegetables are a far better option and can be used in very creative ways. Fresh produce is also an inexpensive option as most gluten free foods come with a higher price tag, mostly because of the marketing and labeling, not because of more expensive ingredients. For an example of a creative way to use vegetables, cauliflower makes an excellent substitute for white rice. White rice is naturally a gluten free grain, but is high in calories and carbohydrates and low in fiber, vitamins an minerals. Cauliflower is packed with vitamins and minerals and high in fiber and protein. Zucchini and other spiralized vegetables are quickly gaining popularity as a delicious, low-carb substitute for pasta. Trading noodles for vegetables is also a great way to add more vitamins and minerals to the diet and also boosts flavor. Nuts and seeds are also a good way to get extra nutrients such as omega 3s and healthy fats. Skip the gluten free oats and make homemade granola from nuts and seeds.
Dr. Mark Hyman in his article titled, “Here’s Why A Gluten-Free Diet Can Become Incredibly Unhealthy” http://drhyman.com/blog/2017/01/19/heres-gluten-free-diet-can-become-incredibly-unhealthy/ he suggests that one of the best ways to stay healthy whether on a gluten free diet or not, is to cook your own food at home. By cooking your own food, you have complete control over the ingredients. Manufactured foods have long lists of ingredients, many of which are not found in the typical home kitchen. He also suggests when dining out to also chose wisely. Gluten free menus are helpful, but the best bets are to choose baked or grilled chicken, fish, or steak and a side of steamed vegetables rather than gluten free pastas, breads, or breaded and fried items.
Dr Hyman quotes, “A gluten-free diet makes a great way to reduce inflammation, improve gut function, lose weight and improve your mood and energy. But this only happens when you eat real, whole foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, clean animal foods, whole gluten-free grains and beans.” I completely agree with this statement. Foods without labels are the best choice for weight loss and most whole foods are naturally free of gluten anyway.
My name is Nancy Barter and I have Crohn’s disease. I have been following a gluten free, mostly dairy free, sugar free and processed food free diet for the last 2 years to manage my symptoms. I take zero pharmaceutical drugs for my disease. I have seen the effects of rapid weight loss on my own body when I switched to a whole foods diet. I have had to experiment with many different combinations of macronutrients to keep my body in balance. When I finally found balance, I actually gained some of the weight back. I believe that when you give the body what it needs to function properly, including nutrition and exercise, it will find a weight that it is happy with and be balanced.