Recent publicity about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet has led to misconceptions about gluten and its role in weight loss. As a consequence, many individuals without gluten intolerance are following a gluten-free diet.
Celiac disease is an inherited, autoimmune disorder in which some people’s gastrointestinal tract cannot properly digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. In celiac disease, gluten destroys some of the intestine’s lining as it passes through the digestive tract, which hinders nutrient absorption. Only 1 percent of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease, while 30 percent of the population carries its genetic markers.
It is estimated that one in 133 people show signs of gluten sensitivity, which like celiac disease include indigestion, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue. An immune system response to gluten is thought to cause non-celiac gluten intolerance. A gluten-free diet is the current treatment for those with either disease.
The reason why a gluten-free diet became a fad weight-loss diet is unknown. But the popularity of the diet has caused the gluten-free market to explode in recent years with gluten-free products commanding a premium price. A recent survey found that only 10 percent of the people who purchase gluten-free products do so out of necessity. The other 90 percent purchase them because of the perceived health benefits of going gluten free.
In fact, some who have been diagnosed with celiac disease may find that switching to a gluten-free diet causes them to gain weight. Gluten-free foods tend to have a higher amount of fat, refined carbohydrates and calories to make up for the taste gluten gives food. While the gluten-free diet is higher in fat and calories, it is often lower in important nutrients including fiber, iron, folate, carbohydrates, niacin, calcium and vitamin B12.
If you’re interested in weight loss or maintenance, consider adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins to your diet rather than going gluten free. More information on gluten is available in the UK extension publication FCS3-564: “The Gluten-Free Choice: Is it for Me?” or through the Franklin County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, 101 Lakeview Ct., 502-695-9035.
Source: Janet Mullins, UK food and nutrition extension specialist