Gluten-free diets: What's the deal?

What is Gluten?

Gluten is simply a protein that has been in the human diet since the agricultural revolution and acts like a ‘glue’ in baked goods; giving stretch and rise to foods like breads.

Is Gluten unhealthy?

There is nothing unhealthy about gluten unless someone has a true gluten intolerance or Coeliac Disease.

When should you remove Gluten from your diet?

Coeliac disease is an immune reaction to gluten (proteins in wheat, rye, barley, triticale and oats) and is responsible for the inflammation and damage to the small intestine.

Symptoms of Coeliac disease may include:

  • weight loss

  • diarrhoea

  • abdominal pain

  • anaemia.

When the small intestine is damaged, nutrients from our food are poorly absorbed into the body. Fortunately, when foods containing these grains are not eaten, the immune reaction subsides, the small bowel heals and symptoms improve.

Very small amounts of gluten can reactivate the immune response causing damage to the intestine with or without obvious symptoms. People with Coeliac disease must strictly avoid gluten!

If you suspect you have a gluten intolerance or Coeliac Disease you need to be tested. If the results come back positive, it’s important you seek advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian to help you establish a well balanced gluten free diet.

Will removing gluten from diet lead to weight loss?

Weight control is never as simple as pinning on one aspect or one nutrient. Gluten has never been scientifically linked to weight control. People seem to think that eating gluten free will make them lose weight or that it’s healthier, when in fact some gluten free products are often high in fat and sugar to compensate for the lack of ‘’glue’’ or Gluten. I’ve known many patients who have an intolerance and cut gluten out of their diets, only to stack weight on simply because they feel better and eat loads more.

Why do people lose weight following a Gluten Free diet?

It’s because they have cut out many energy-dense foods. These people are restricting food choices. When people have fewer choices, they tend to eat less and lose weight accordingly.

Take home message

Adopting a gluten-free diet provides great benefits to those with Coeliac disease but such a diet offers no benefit to people without the condition.

Weight control can be accomplished by consuming wholesome foods, including whole grains (instead of too many refined grains) that do still contain gluten. Wholegrains are a superb source of fibre and minerals that will keep you healthy. The result would be an easier, more sustainable, and potentially more nutritious diet overall.

The key to weight control is nutrient-dense, low energy-dense foods, a good amount of protein distributed over the day, healthy fats in their natural form, daily movement, enough sleep and stress management.