January 21, 2015

Publicity, media exposure, and marketing claims surrounding the growing trend towards gluten-free eating make this decision appear to be a healthy option. It seems that any health problems can be attributed to eating gluten, so eliminating it must be good, right?

It depends on which group you fall into:

  1. There’s a small group of the population with coeliac disease, who have an immune response to gluten and so must eliminate it completely. Ingesting gluten damages their small intestine and causes malabsorption and inflammation, and can eventually lead to death.
  2. There’s a larger group of the population with sensitivity to either gluten or wheat. Their immune response prompts a range of symptoms but the results are less dire. Mental health issues, skin conditions, gastric upset, lethargy, weight gain, insomnia, reflux, and joint pain are just some of the unpleasant or painful conditions that have been associated with gluten or wheat.
  3. Finally, there are those who don’t need to avoid gluten at all. Their bodies have the digestive capacity and immunity to deal with gluten and so it causes no problem.

Whichever group you’re in, you may need/want to eliminate gluten from your diet. Many people do this by shopping for ‘gluten-free’ products. This is fine for avoiding gluten, but it does not automatically make it a healthy choice. And it does not mean that these products will help with weight loss.

Think back to all the ‘low-fat’ products that flooded the market a few years back – and which still do now. This sounded great, but the problem was that to maintain taste, manufacturers added sugar or other ingredients so that consumers would recognise the expected taste of the product and continue to buy it.

In taking gluten or wheat out of a product, what is added to ensure that the product still tastes mostly as expected?

Rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour are commonly used in place of wheat flour. While they are successful at eliminating gluten, they don’t have natural fibre, vitamins, minerals, or phytochemicals, and they induce a sharp rise in blood glucose levels. This is bad news for weight loss.

So if you want to be ‘gluten-free’, how do you do it and still lose weight?

You might be surprised at first about how much better you feel just by adopting a gluten-free fresh food diet. The key is to replace gluten-containing foods with food that does not come in packages.

Here are some easy examples: Eliminate your gluten-free toast at breakfast and instead have mushrooms, spinach and eggs. Forget the gluten-free wrap at lunch and instead have a salad and some chicken. Drop the gluten-free pasta at dinner and have your bolognaise over zucchini strips. When it comes to treats, ‘gluten-free’ does not mean ‘no-calorie’ or ‘healthy’. If you want to lose weight, gluten-free cake will sabotage your results.

Ultimately, replacing gluten-containing foods with fresh foods will have the biggest impact on health and weight, and the side effect is that most people have more energy and generally just feel better than they ever have.