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Digestive Health and Wellness

Gluten-Free Is Not a Prescription for Weight-Loss

Nancy Z. Farrell Allen, MS, RDN, FAND

National Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Fad diets usually appeal to people who are looking for a quick-fix weight loss. But because many fad diets promote taking supplements or eating more of one food group while avoiding another, they can deprive your body of important nutrients. In the end, a fad diet might lead to short-term weight loss but result in nutritional deficiencies, eventually gaining the weight back, and other health concerns.

Going gluten-free or avoiding foods with gluten is a weight loss fad that has grown popular with celebrities over the past few years. There is no strong scientific evidence that avoiding gluten — a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley — results in weight loss.

Avoiding foods with gluten may result in deficiencies in iron, folate, niacin, zinc, and dietary fiber and is not recommended unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity that is not caused by celiac disease. 

Following a gluten-free diet is scientifically proven to benefit people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder diagnosed by a physician. When a person with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the small intestine which prevents the body from absorbing nutrients properly. People with celiac disease may become malnourished and experience symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. For those with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is a necessity, and a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist can help personalize it.

Many foods and beverages are naturally gluten-free such as milk, fresh fruits, and vegetables, as well as single-ingredient foods such as rice, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, fish and shellfish, and poultry. 

Individuals with celiac disease are encouraged to check the ingredients for hidden sources of gluten and to look for products labeled gluten-free. They must avoid products with wheat, rye, barley, oats, malt (unless a gluten-free source is listed, such as corn malt), and brewer’s yeast. In addition, foods labeled “contains wheat” must be avoided. Some medications and dietary supplements may also contain gluten.

If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or your goal is to lose weight, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you find a realistic, flexible eating style that helps you meet your nutritional needs. For more information, visit the Academy’s online Find an Expert service to find a registered dietitian nutritionist. 

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