It’s easy to get swept into the trend of gluten-free diets, considering the many celebrities and athletes that have jumped on that bandwagon -- Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham and Miley Cyrus among them.
“Lose the wheat, lose the weight,” as the current catchphrase goes.
Gluten-free diets -- those shunning any products with the grains wheat, barley, rye and triticale or even traces of those ingredients -- seem to promise weight loss, increased energy and generally healthier living.
In response, gluten-free bakeries and gluten-free aisles of grocery stores are ever-expanding, luring the average consumer. It’s no wonder there’s gluten-free bottled tea, gluten-free salad dressing, gluten-free granola bars, gluten-free pasta ... and the list goes on.
But medical experts advise caution on going gluten-free unless, of course, you are part of the estimated 3 million Americans who have celiac disease.
For those with celiac -- it amounts to about 1 of every 133 people -- their diet must be absolutely gluten-free, or they risk serious illness.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which even a small ingestion of gluten sets off an attack on the small intestine. The absorption of nutrients is inhibited, sometimes leading to malnutrition, infertility, neurological conditions and osteoporosis.
In addition, many people have been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity and have found that gluten-free diets can help relieve digestive ailments.
But what about gluten-free diets simply to feel healthier or lose weight? Marilyn Geller, chief operating officer of the Celiac Disease Foundation, addresses that question on the CDF website:
“If you give up bread and pasta, tortillas and pizza crust and concentrate on a diet that’s more about protein, fruits and vegetables, you’re going to lose weight,” she said. “But if you truly just substitute gluten-free products for regular things, you can actually gain weight.”
In other words, if you reach for a gluten-free muffin instead of a regular one, you might not be accomplishing much.
In the same article, Dee Sandquist, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, points out that weight loss is tied to calorie intake and physical activity, not necessarily gluten.
Here are two prime reasons for non-celiacs to carefully consider whether to embrace a gluten-free lifestyle, or whether to research alternatives to reaching your goals regarding weight loss and energy.
- When you cut out wheat and other grains, you often miss out on B vitamins and iron.
- When you buy gluten-free bakery products, they often contain more fat and less fiber than the traditional versions.
To continue getting fiber and nutrients, try products with buckwheat, brown rice and quinoa, Sandquist suggests.
Reading food labels is a good habit to get into, even when your concern isn’t gluten.
On a related note, watch out for possible changes in gluten-free labeling on grocery products in fall 2012. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to mandate that food items contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten in order to be labeled gluten-free.
Many celiac patients see the 20 ppm threshold as too lenient, however, and are taking legal steps to force the FDA to lower the gluten-free standard to 10 parts per million or lower.
More information is available from the “2012 FDA Update” section of the Celiac Sprue Association website at http://www.csaceliacs.info/2011_glutenfree_labeling_update.jsp
“Gluten-free is not always the way to be.” Celiac Disease Foundation. Web. 30 July 2012.
“The Rewards and Risks of a Gluten-Free Diet.” KTLA.com (Los Angeles, CA). Web. 30 July 2012.
Geller, Marilyn (guest blogger). “Celiac Disease-What you need to know.” California Rice Commission. Web. 30 July 2012.
Reviewed July 31, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith