Both low-carb and gluten-free diets get a lot of flak for being dieting "fads" -- but they're actually beneficial for many people. Eating a diet low in carbohydrates is an effective way to lose weight, while cutting out gluten -- a protein found in foods containing wheat, rye or barley -- helps you avoid negative symptoms linked to a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease. Eating both low-carb and gluten-free requires a little more planning than either dietary restriction alone, so if you're not exactly sure how to start, talk to a dietitian for professional help.
Benefits of Going Low-Carb
If you're trying to slim down, switching to a low-carb diet can help you reach your goals. Low-carb diets tend to contain more protein than a typical higher-carb diet -- a bonus for weight loss, since you burn more calories digesting protein than any other nutrient. Protein and fat -- the two nutrients emphasized in a low-carb diet -- are also filling, so you can also likely stick to your diet without dealing with massive hunger pangs. And you may experience better blood sugar control on a low-carb diet as well since sugar, refined grains and potatoes -- all foods you'll need to skip on the diet -- tend to disrupt your blood sugar level, which triggers hunger and cravings.
Going low-carb also means you're likely to see results faster than you would on some other diets, particularly low-fat diets, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Cutting Out Gluten and Carbs
Eating gluten-free may make it easier to follow a low-carb diet, since some of the biggest sources of gluten also come packed with carbs. A cup of whole-wheat spiral macaroni, for instance, contains 41 grams of carbs -- and only 2 grams come from fiber, leaving 39 grams of digestible "net" carbohydrates. A slice of whole-wheat bread will set you back 12 grams of net carbs, while a slice of sourdough has a whopping 69 grams of net carbs. All of these foods are too high in carbs for the vast majority of low-carb diets -- and they're off-limits on a gluten-free diet, too.
The wheat alternatives typically included in a gluten-free diet, however, may not fly if you're eating low-carb. Corn pasta, for example, is gluten-free but still contains 32 grams of carbohydrates per cup, which is too much for most low-carb diets. And a large sweet potato or a cup of brown rice, while both gluten-free, have roughly 30 and 40 grams of net carbs per serving, respectively. Even though these won't aggravate a gluten intolerance or allergy, they won't fit into a low-carb meal plan.
Watch Out for Hidden Gluten
Conversely, some foods are low in carbs but are still off-limits due to their gluten content. That's especially true of low-carb processed foods -- like packaged meals, shakes and bars -- since more processed foods are more likely to contain some level of gluten, notes the University of Utah Health Center. You'll also want to look out for gluten in processed meats -- including low-carb meats like bacon and sausage -- as well as packaged soups, marinades, sauces and salad dressings.
The solution? Stick to unprocessed low-carb staples like homemade grilled chicken breast, grilled salmon, eggs, plain dairy, fresh and unflavored frozen veggies, unsalted nuts and lower-carb fruits, like berries.
A Day on a Gluten-Free Low-Carb Diet
Breakfast on a low-carb, gluten-free diet might involve a veggie and egg scramble -- a mix of low-carb veggies like mushrooms, kale and green pepper, plus eggs or egg whites for protein. Snack on an ounce of raw, unsalted almonds -- if you need extra flavor, add your own sea salt to taste. Then serve low-carb fish salad -- made from cottage cheese mixed with canned tuna or salmon -- in lettuce leaves for a gluten-free lunch. Power through your afternoon with plain Greek yogurt topped with a handful of fresh raspberries, then serve grilled chicken or turkey breast with roasted veggies -- like eggplant, zucchini or red pepper -- for dinner.