Is a Gluten-Free Diet Best for Weight Loss?

Use common sense to guide your decision about this trendy diet

gluten-free diet for weight loss
Gluten-free foods aren't always diet friendly. JPM/Image Source/ Getty Images

Gluten-free diets have taken the weight loss industry by storm. The popularity of this trendy eating style has created a giant new industry of gluten-free books, gluten-free foods and gluten free-weight loss programs.  But is going gluten-free really the best way to lose weight? There are some important things you should know before you embrace the gluten-free life to slim down.

Gluten-Free Diet Success 

You probably have at least one friend who has gone gluten-free. He or she may have been able to lose weight on a gluten-free diet. But does that mean you should go gluten-free?  Gluten-free dieters may lose weight for reasons that have nothing to do with gluten. 

For example, a recent article in the Miami Herald highlights a typical gluten-free success story. The article author interviews Linda Keister, a dieter who lost weight by going gluten-free.  She had apparently tried everything to lose weight and solve her health problems but nothing worked.  Eliminating gluten cured her ills.  She tells the Herald  “I really do believe gluten plays a big role because nothing else has changed in my lifestyle.”

But if you scroll down a few paragraphs, you learn a little more about Keister's new eating plan.  The new diet is filled with healthy vegetables, lean fish and other fresh wholesome and diet-friendly foods.

So it becomes hard to tell if the lack of gluten helped her lose weight or if her new healthy food choices caused the weight loss. Keister's story is not unlike many gluten-free diet success stories.

Should You Go Gluten-Free to Lose Weight?

Whether or not your body can tolerate gluten is a discussion that you should have with your physician.

  There are several medical conditions that require a gluten-free diet.  But the decision about those diagnoses should be based on your own health history and symptoms. It is probably not in your best interests to make major health changes based on a diet book or magazine article.  

If you are considering a gluten-free program for weight loss alone, you should think about the ways in which your diet will change if you go gluten-free.  Here’s what you can expect:

  • You will make more careful food choices.  Gluten-free dieters must examine the ingredients list of every food they eat to make sure that there aren’t trace amounts of the substance in the food.  Eating will become a more thoughtful process and you can expect to put more time and energy into planning proper meals and snacks.
  • You will eliminate many processed foods from your diet.  Many typical American foods are heavily processed and contain gluten.  You won’t be able to eat them on your new diet and you will need to supplement with other choices.  Gluten-free “junk foods” are becoming more popular, but they are not as widely available in every area. So it's very possible that you'll eliminate junk food altogether. 
  • You will cut out a major source of calories. Many typical American eaters consume many or even most of their calories from bread, cookies, bagels, cereals and other baked goods that contain gluten. If you eliminate these you'll reduce your overall calorie intake. Gluten-free baked goods are becoming more widely available. Keep in mind that these treats are not necessarily lower in fat or calories (or better for weight loss) than traditional treats. 
  • You will eat more whole foods.  In order to meet your daily caloric needs, you’ll begin to eat more whole, unprocessed foods, like fresh fruits, a wide range of vegetables, lean meats and heart-healthy fish

These three changes to your diet are bound to cause changes in the way you look and feel. If you switch from a diet of heavily processed foods to a diet of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables and metabolism-boosting lean protein, you are bound to have more energy, eat fewer calories, and lose weight. 

So is going gluten-free a good diet for weight loss? For some people, it probably is. But the diet’s success may have nothing to do with gluten. If you are considering a gluten-free diet, skip the magazine articles and the gossip that you hear at the health club.  Use your own common sense along with advice from your health care team to make a smart decision for you. 

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