The Good, the Bad, and the Gluten-Free

February 3, 2011

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Photo: Courtesy of Paul

Carb-free, fat-free...we’ve heard of just about every “free” diet out there, but how about gluten- free? You may have recently seen the newest diet craze in the media with celebrities claiming weight loss galore, or perhaps you know someone who eats form the gluten-free section that UNH dining services provides. 

First, lets talk about what gluten is. Women’s Health Magazine’s article titled “Is Gluten Bad for Your Body?” defines gluten as a protein found in the grains of wheat, barley and rye that makes our favorite carbohydrates such as pizza dough, stretchy, and thickens our favorite soups and sauces. For those suffering from celiac’s disease, gluten is extremely damaging to the intestines causing cramps, diarrhea, nausea and bloating. While celiac’s disease is not largely diagnosed in the United States, nonceliac gluten sensitivity affects almost 20 million Americans. This condition consists of the same side effects but does not harm the intestines. Does your morning toast leave your tummy feeling a little upset and have you running to the bathroom by the time you get to work? Ask your doctor about going gluten-free to ease your digestive woes. As gluten-free products have become more available for those in need, they have also gained a reputation “as a cure-all for many conditions aside from celiac, including migraines, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome” (Alessio Fasano, M.D., medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research in Baltimore).

So where does gluten-free come into the weight loss scheme of things? Well, there is no scientific evidence that a gluten-free diet has hip slimming effects. Eating gluten-free simply limits the number of food choices available which ultimately means you are less likely to overeat. Fat and sugar are added to gluten-free products to replace the binding agent found in the protein. When comparing a regular serving of pretzels with 110 calories and 1 gram of fat, gluten free pretzels have 140 calories and shockingly 6 grams of fat!

So do you want to make the trade off? Well, if you do have celiac’s disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity, switching to gluten-free will make your dining experience easier on your body, but it has a price. Shopping gluten-free can be a hassle and be expensive. You are also risking nutritional deficiencies of iron, B vitamins, and fiber that are found in whole grain products. Ultimately if you are looking to go gluten-free for weight loss purposes, focus on eating low calorie, high fiber foods, such as fruits and veggies along with lean protein to keep you satisfied. 

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It is a very difficult choice to go gluten free because our diet becomes very limited and we might run the risk of losing out on some essential nutients. It would be better if doctors and researchers found organic food which is gluten free rather than insisting on cutting down bread and wheat.

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