Have you noticed the aisles full of gluten-free foods popping up in supermarkets lately? Food manufacturers are fostering a trend that’s becoming more and more popular. But is going gluten-free actually any healthier, and will it lead to weight loss.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, triticale, barley and oats, and it’s also often found in other products as it helps bind foods together.
Why go gluten free?
A strict gluten-free diet is essential for people with an inflammatory condition known as coeliac disease. However, many people who buy gluten-free products are doing so because they think these foods are healthier, not because they have coeliac disease or gluten intolerance.
Going gluten-free is not as simple as cutting out bread and pasta, because gluten is often found in many other foods as it adds flavour and texture. But while buying the gluten-free variety of a product over the regular version is essential for people with coeliac disease, sales of these products show they’re being bought by far more people than those with the disease or gluten intolerance, which is estimated to affect six to ten percent of the population.
According to Food Australia, an estimated 18 percent of Australian consumers are now buying gluten-free products. These products are often lower in nutritional value and have a higher GI and less fibre than their gluten-containing equivalents. In addition, they often have added sugars and fats to make them more palatable. As a result, many people who have to go on strict gluten-free diets often gain weight because of the calorie density of these foods.
Some celebrities endorse going gluten-free for weight loss, but this weight loss is often due to cutting out an entire food group (such as breads and cereals). That means they’re eating fewer calories, which naturally leads to weight loss – but it’s not because they’ve cut out gluten.
Avoiding gluten-containing foods can also lead to nutritional deficiencies. An Italian study found that people following long-term gluten-free diets had lower intakes of fibre, folate, niacin, B12, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese and selenium, while a British study found participants were consuming significantly more carbohydrates.
An Australian study, meanwhile, found that following a long-term gluten-free diet led to an inadequate fibre intake and could result in dietary inadequacies related to poor food choices.
Should you go gluten free?
If weight loss is your goal (and if you don’t need to go gluten-free because of coeliac disease or gluten intolerance), try focusing on your portion sizes instead. For lunch or dinner, half of your plate should be made up of vegetables or salad, a quarter should be protein and a quarter carbohydrates.
However, if you do decide to go gluten-free, then skip packaged foods and include plenty of variety in your diet, with lots of vegetables, fruit, lean sources of protein, dairy and low GI, gluten-free grains and legumes. This will ensure you’re eating from all the food groups and getting a wide range of nutrients.
If you think you may have coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, make sure you see your doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian. They’ll be able to give you the best advice and make an accurate diagnosis.
Also read: Don’t go Gluten Free if you Don’t Have To
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