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Gluten-Free Diets: Reality Check
Is gluten the latest dietary villain? It would seem so. Restaurant menus hype their gluten-free items. Food packages proclaim their gluten-free contents. Weight loss programs flaunt the purported benefits of avoiding gluten. And then there is the list of conditions apart from celiac disease that supposedly are helped by eliminating gluten from the diet. Such marketing tactics could lead a person to believe that the gluten-free diet is the greatest discovery since sliced bread.
So, let's examine the facts. Does going gluten-free help a person lose weight? Does it improve overall health? Is it the cure-all for what ails you? Is gluten the new nutritional enemy? The answer is... well, it depends.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley products. It gives an elastic consistency to flours made from these grains. Most breads, cereals, crackers, pasta, and baked goods contain gluten, and it is found in many processed and packaged foods disguised in ingredients like thickening agents and fillers made from these grains.
Gluten-Free Weight Loss?
Many personal trainers, celebrities, and alternative health practitioners have joined the growing gluten-free trend and are recommending the diet for all sorts of inappropriate conditions. Weight loss is one example. There is no evidence that gluten-free foods promote weight loss, and no evidence that replacing a food that contains gluten with a gluten-free food can help a person lose weight. The gluten-free version has the same number of calories.
However, when a person avoids gluten, many foods must be avoided. Dee Sandquist, , American Dietetic Association Spokesperson and Registered Dietitian, stated, " When people choose to follow a gluten-free diet for weight loss, most likely they have changed their eating habits to include fewer gluten-containing products overall such as cakes, cookies, rolls, etc." Cutting out those foods reduces calorie intake which will result in weight loss. Nothing magical there though. Reducing calories from any source results in weight loss.
The number of gluten-free products is limited and trying to design a weight loss plan around such few foods would be quite challenging to accomplish and difficult to stick to. In fact, a gluten-free diet may be high in calories and actually contribute to weight gain because food manufacturers often replace gluten with fat and sugar to impersonate the desirable qualities that gluten provides to baked goods.
Although a gluten-free diet may often be suggested for managing conditions like autism, irritable bowel syndrome, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the research shows mixed results and further research is needed in these areas. There is also a lack of evidence that avoiding gluten boosts energy levels, improves digestion, or enhances attention span.