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Side Effects of Starting a Gluten-Free Diet

author image Erica Kannall
Erica Kannall is a registered dietitian and certified health/fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked in clinical nutrition, community health, fitness, health coaching, counseling and food service. She holds a Bachelor of Science in clinical dietetics and nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.
Side Effects of Starting a Gluten-Free Diet
Your weight might fluctuate when starting a gluten-free diet. Photo Credit: Pitris/iStock/Getty Images

Starting on a gluten-free diet can have a variety of positive and negative consequences. It involves completely avoiding gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley, as well as products made from them. If you were recently diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, you'll likely experience many improvements in your health by removing gluten from your meal plan. If you're starting the diet for other health reasons, your side effects might vary.

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Eat high fiber gluten free foods like brown rice.
Eat high fiber gluten free foods like brown rice. Photo Credit: spirit_of_nature/iStock/Getty Images

A gluten-free diet can lack an adequate amount of dietary fiber, notes the Harvard Health Publications website. Whole wheat, which contains gluten, is a major source of fiber in many diets. Gluten-free alternatives made from potato, tapioca and white rice lack the same fiber content. Dietary fiber, although indigestible, plays an important role in reducing constipation. It keeps bowel movements soft and regular. To avoid constipation when starting a gluten-free diet, be sure to eat plenty of fiber-rich, gluten-free grains such as brown rice, quinoa and millet, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Lack of Nutrients

Consider taking a multivitamin supplement.
Consider taking a multivitamin supplement. Photo Credit: Spectral-Design/iStock/Getty Images

You might develop nutrient deficiencies when starting a gluten-free diet. Many gluten-containing foods, such as bread, pasta and cereal, are fortified with vitamins and minerals to help meet your daily needs. The gluten-free versions of these foods are less likely to be fortified. This may leave you lacking iron and B vitamins such as folate. To avoid these deficiencies, eat a well-balanced diet and consider taking a multivitamin supplement.

Less Gas, Diarrhea and Bloating

A gluten free diet may give relief from digestive symptoms.
A gluten free diet may give relief from digestive symptoms. Photo Credit: Heiko119/iStock/Getty Images

While some effects of starting a gluten-free diet are undesirable, others may provide relief from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. If you have one of these conditions, eating gluten may cause uncomfortable digestive effects such as gas, diarrhea and bloating. Improvements are typically seen within weeks of starting a gluten-free diet, but full healing of the intestines may take 6 to 18 months, notes the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center website.

Fewer Headaches and More Energy

Going gluten free may help to reduce headaches.
Going gluten free may help to reduce headaches. Photo Credit: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

Other positive effects of going gluten-free may include fewer headaches, an improved energy level, less joint pain and less tingling or numbness of your hands and feet. If you're sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease and include gluten in your diet, negative side effects develop. Removing the cause of these symptoms by following a strict gluten-free diet allows your body to start properly absorbing nutrients and stops adverse immune reactions from occurring in response to gluten.

Weight Changes

Processed gluten free foods may cause weight gain.
Processed gluten free foods may cause weight gain. Photo Credit: HaHaHam8/iStock/Getty Images

You may also experience weight loss or weight gain when starting a gluten-free diet. If you have celiac disease and were eating gluten, your body was not properly absorbing nutrients and calories. Once on a gluten-free diet, your intestines begin to heal, you absorb nutrients better and may gain weight as a result. Gluten-free processed foods and snacks also tend to be high in fat and sugar, which can contribute to weight gain. If you cut out gluten by eliminating foods and do not replace them, you may find that you lose weight due to reduced calorie intake.

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