Miley Ray Cyrus
“For everyone calling me anorexic I have a gluten and lactose allergy. It’s not about weight it’s about health.”
Pop star Miley Cyrus’ tweet last spring saying her recent weight loss was due to a gluten “allergy” spawned an increase in gluten-free diets.
Today you can find a wide variety of gluten-free products on the shelves of many grocery stores — gluten-free breads, cookies, crackers and pastas.
Vicky Cora, MS, RD, LD, discusses the pros and cons of a gluten-free diet.
“If you choose to try a gluten-free diet, just like any fad diet, you want to make sure you take a multivitamin or supplement with a B-complex vitamin to make up for what you’re not consuming.”
What Is a Gluten-Free Diet?
Gluten is a stretchy protein that remains after the starch from certain carbohydrates is removed during the digestive process.
Gluten is found in:
- Oats, on occasion, due to cross-contamination in the fields or processing plants
Following a gluten-free diet means avoiding:
- White, wheat or rye breads, rolls, biscuits and muffins
- Crackers, chips and cookies
- Pastas, including spaghetti dishes and ramen noodles
Gluten-Free Diet for Weight-Loss
“Nowadays gluten free is a very popular diet fad,” says Ms. Cora.
“People claim they feel less tired, and they claim to feel better about themselves. Some people say they feel less bloated. Some dieters do lose weight following this trendy diet. The simple fact,” Ms. Cora says, “is that if you eliminate any major food group from your diet, you’ll see some weight changes.”
Despite these perceived benefits, there’s no scientific evidence to support the claim that a gluten-free diet is a healthful choice for people searching specifically for weight loss, says Ms. Cora.
If you’re following a gluten-free diet with the intent of losing weight, you’re often eliminating entire categories of food — such as whole-grain breads — and as a result you run the risk of cutting out sources of necessary vitamins, particularly the B vitamins, niacin, folic acid, iron and zinc.
“With a gluten-free diet, many times you’re choosing things that are less healthful. Often people substitute high-fat items for the gluten. A label may say the product is gluten-free, but it may be high in fat or sugar,” cautions Ms. Cora.
“I’ve seen people actually gain weight, not lose weight, on a gluten-free diet, because they make poor food choices,” Ms. Cora notes.
“If you choose to try a gluten-free diet, just like any fad diet, you want to make sure you take a multivitamin or supplement with a B-complex vitamin to make up for what you’re not consuming,” suggests Ms. Cora.
The B vitamins are important for:
- Producing red blood cells
- Maintaining your immune and nervous systems
- Regulating your metabolism
- Governing hair and nail growth
Gluten-Free Diet for Celiac Disease
There are certain instances when it’s necessary to follow a gluten-free diet, Ms. Cora says.
Some people have a condition “where gluten damages the little fingerlike vili in their small intestines, causing discomfort in their bowels. They may also have constipation, diarrhea or blood in their stool,” Ms. Cora says.
The condition is diagnosed through blood test and biopsy. Depending on the results, the diagnosis will be either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. These patients must follow a gluten-free diet throughout their lives, Ms. Cora says.
If you suspect you have celiac disease and would like to be tested, it’s important to eat regularly and not follow a gluten-free diet, as this may skew results.