If you're part of the one in 100 people who have celiac disease, or the presumably much higher number with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you know that it can take a toll on your health. If you're sensitive to gluten, will eating gluten-free make you lose weight?
Unless you have celiac disease or a diagnosed sensitivity to gluten, it's probably not making you gain weight. What matters more is the nutrient density of the foods you are consuming.
What Is Gluten Intolerance?
You've probably heard of the gluten-free diet, which is popular among people who don't tolerate bread and other wheat products. Gluten actually isn't a grain — it's a mixture of proteins found in wheat, barley and rye. For some people, gluten can be difficult for the body to process, which leads to inflammation in the stomach and intestines.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that can be detected with a blood test. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, though its symptoms are similar, is harder to detect because it isn't strictly medically defined, and symptoms can vary per person. They may include stomach cramping, diarrhea, constipation, headaches or fatigue.
Is Gluten Intolerance Dangerous?
Celiac disease, if left untreated, can result in a higher risk of heart disease, infertility and other autoimmune conditions. If you are worried you might have celiac disease, talk to your doctor, so you can get tested. If you test positive, you'll need to cut out gluten for the sake of your health.
For those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, however, the research isn't as clear about long-term health problems. A 2017 study in the BMJ suggested that avoidance of gluten in adults without celiac disease can actually result in nutrient deficiencies. Unless your doctor has specifically told you to avoid gluten, you shouldn't worry about long-term negative health effects from regular gluten consumption.
Gluten Causes Weight Gain?
Gluten-free diets are often touted as a weight-loss solution, even among people who don't have a diagnosed gluten sensitivity. But does gluten actually cause weight gain? It's not a simple yes or no answer.
For people with gluten sensitivity, going gluten free might help reduce bloating, which could result in a flatter, leaner look that resembles weight loss. If gluten is inflaming your gastrointestinal tract, you'll retain less gas and water once you choose to cut it out.
But weight loss really depends on what you are eating, not what you choose to cut out. Gluten is found in carbohydrates like bread, pasta and pastries, which are low in nutritional value and can cause weight gain if eaten in large quantities. If you're eating less of these, and instead consuming nutrient-dense foods filled with protein, fat and complex carbohydrates, you're likely to lose some weight.
However, most gluten-containing foods have gluten-free alternatives that are just as nutritionally deficient. If you replace your regular bread and pasta with gluten-free versions but continue to eat them in excess, you're unlikely to lose weight. In fact, you may even be depriving your body of the probiotics and vitamins found in gluten.
Overall, gluten avoidance isn't necessary unless you have a diagnosed gluten intolerance or celiac disease. If you're hoping to lose weight, don't opt for gluten free versions of the same unhealthy foods; instead, eat more protein, fat, fiber and complex carbohydrates, and cut back your consumption of simple sugars and carbs that do nothing for your health.
- Gluten Intolerance Group: "The Gluten-Free Diet: Facts and Myths"
- Nutrients: "Properties of Gluten Intolerance: Gluten Structure, Evolution, Pathogenicity and Detoxification Capabilities"
- Celiac Disease Foundation: "About the Disease: Screening"
- Gluten Intolerance Group: "Celiac Disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, or Wheat Allergy: What Is The Difference?"
- Celiac Disease Foundation: "What is Celiac Disease?"
- BMJ: "Long Term Gluten Consumption in Adults Without Celiac Disease and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: Prospective Cohort Study"
- Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology: "Health Benefits and Adverse Effects of a Gluten-Free Diet in Non–Celiac Disease Patients"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Diet Review: Gluten-Free for Weight Loss"