The popularity of following a ‘Gluten-free’ diet has grown rapidly over the last few years with the perception that gluten-free foods are healthier and assist with weight loss. Gluten has been blamed for causing fatigue, tiredness, skin problems, digestive complications including, diarrhoea, constipation and flatulence (wind) and even depression.
But hold-on, before you jump to conclusions and consequently jump on the gluten-free bandwagon yourself, let me explain to you what gluten is…Gluten is a protein that is found in a number of foods including wheat, rye, oats and barley…and that’s all! So what did this protein do to deserve such a bad wrap? In short, nothing! That’s right, there is not a shred of scientific evidence that suggests that avoiding gluten is healthier for our bodies, nor that it aids weight loss. Unfortunately, many people have an opinion on what we should eat, including those that have limited or no nutrition-related education or credentials resulting in a lot of mixed messages about nutrition, including the misleading idea that gluten should be taken out of our diets!
A gluten-free diet is only necessary only for those that have been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, an autoimmune condition whereby when gluten is consumed; the lining of the small intestine is damaged causing unpleasant symptoms and malabsorption of nutrients. Only approximately 1% of the Westernised population are estimated to have Coeliac Disease. The only way to treat this disease is by avoiding gluten altogether. Some people that have not been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease but still have unpleasant symptoms after ingesting gluten may have a sensitivity to gluten, however it is important to have relevant testing completed before omitting gluten from your diet. Many people self-diagnose themselves as being sensitive to gluten when they in fact are not. If you feel that you are sensitive to gluten, ensure that you seek advice from a professional including your doctor and a dietitian.
Lastly, the notion that gluten-free foods are healthier than foods containing gluten is another misconception that is simply untrue. In fact, many gluten-free products have highly refined, energy dense, nutrient poor ingredients making the food product an unhealthy food choice.
To sum it up: Despite a growing market for gluten-free products and celebrity endorsements advocating a gluten-free diet for weight loss, there is no published data or evidenced-based research to support the claim that following a gluten-free diet will result in weight loss. In fact, unnecessarily cutting gluten out of your diet may very well reduce the nutritional adequacy of your diet.
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