Question: I need to lose major weight, and so I’m trying to eat better and purchase better, healthier foods for my family. I know that the gluten-free diet is supposed to be great for losing weight, but gluten-free products cost something crazy and drive my food bills up through the roof. I’d like to know if eating gluten-free will help me lose weight and improve my health?
The SLIMQUICK Coach:
That’s the million-dollar question these days – literally!
With Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Alba, Rachel Weisz, Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus all claiming to live the glamorous gluten-free lifestyle of the Rich and Famous, millions of people have also adopted the gluten-free diet, seeking out a wafer-thin, wafer-free body of their own.
A label virtually unheard of just ten years ago, companies riding the “gluten-free” market trend are rolling in the dough in 2015, with a greater and greater number of general consumers demanding the presence of gluten-free products in their regular grocery aisles.
And the market has responded, offering a gluten-free alternative to virtually every gluten-containing item known to Agrarian Mankind. Gluten-free beer, cakes, cookies, crackers, pretzels, pastas, pancake mixes, muffins, breads, wraps, soups, sauces, cereals, ice creams and ketchup can easily be found occupying entire dedicated sections of food stores. Even bags of dry beans, raw nuts, jars of honey – products that never contained gluten to begin with – can be found exclaiming “Gluten-free!” on their packages. Gluten-free diet books, recipe books and books decreeing gluten-induced global disasters are making bestsellers’ lists. High scale restaurants now offer patrons gluten-free menus, while churches offer parishioners gluten-free communion wafers.
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, gluten-free eating has become the fastest growing nutritional movement in America. Currently worth about $4.5 billion dollars globally, Packaged Facts found that gluten-free food and beverage product sales have been increasing steadily every year by 30% since 2006, grossing at about $5.6 billion dollars in U.S. sales this year.
No longer representing a renegade group of specialty items found only in niche health food stores, the “gluten-free” label is now rubbing elbows with the likes of “fat-free”, “cholesterol-free”, and “sugar-free”. These leading labels have collectively come to represent an esteemed rank of superior, trusted health food lines, believed to ensure health, longevity and a sensible method of weight loss.
But are gluten-free foods actually healthier, and do they help you lose weight?
Gluten is a network of proteins found in foods processed from wheat, spelt, rye and barley. After the starch is washed out of a batch of dough, these grain proteins link up to form gluten. Gluten is a high protein food that was used as a staple source of protein for strictly vegetarian Buddhist monks, and is still used today in traditional eastern cuisine and as a wheat meat-alternative (also known as “seitan”) for Western vegans and vegetarians. Naturally adhesive, gluten is what gives breads and baked goods their cohesive shape and their gluey, chewy and stretchy textures.
Gluten can also be found thickening up canned soups, salad dressings, soy sauce and other liquids, or firming up imitation meats and fishes, or stabilizing foods like ice cream and ketchup, or adding flavor to brands of potato chips, chewing gum, candy and chocolate milk. Even some lickable envelopes, stickers, labels, stamps, lipsticks, lip balms, toothpastes, vitamins and medications may contain this widely used additive. It’s likely that we are consuming higher amounts of gluten on a regular basis than any generation before us.
Several years ago, this posed a serious problem for people with Celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder affecting about one percent of the North American population. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the surface of their small intestine is gradually destroyed, leaving them unable to absorb the vital nutrients necessary for life. Symptoms include cramps, gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, severe weight loss, irritability, chronic fatigue, anemia, osteoporosis, organ diseases, nerve damage and neurological effects.
Another estimated six percent of the population suffers from gluten sensitivity, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. People who are gluten sensitive don’t experience intestinal damage, but nevertheless experience other symptoms like digestive upset, headaches, skin rashes, bone and joint pain, weight gain and other problems that clear up once gluten is weaned out of their diets.
Gluten-free or Gluten-fear?
Celiac specialists say that gluten intolerance and sensitivity issues are still not fully defined, understood or always diagnosed properly. There very well may be a number of people who have a real problem with gluten who don’t know it. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic in 2012 found that a significant number of celiac sufferers go undiagnosed.
But, in the course of the same study, the researchers incidentally stumbled upon another point – that over 90% of the subjects that were already following a gluten-free diet displayed no actual medical reason for doing so. Packaged Facts documented the very same phenomenon, finding that only a small minority of gluten-free product spending was coming from people who were actually pursuing a medically recommended diet. “So we’ve got this kind of irony,” remarks gastroenterologist Joseph A. Murray, MD, of the Mayo Clinic study, “where those who need to be on a gluten-free diet aren’t on it, because they don’t know they have it. And those who are on it probably don’t need to be on it, from a medical point of view.”
While people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity exhibit distinctive signs of their disorders, the other 93% of the population do not display anything of the kind when they eat gluten. The plant protein passes harmlessly through their guts, and exhibits no harm or noted health problems or long-term weight gain.
So how did a life-threatening digestive disorder become a popular Hollywood-eating trend? What has prompted so many healthy people to make the switch to an expensive diet originally designed as a medical therapy?
A Glutton for Gluten-free
For a healthy person that displays no negative symptoms from the consumption of gluten, does the act of simply stopping to eat gluten lead to better health and weight loss, like the claims say?
The simple answer is no. In fact, very often, the exact opposite is true.
For people who are gluten intolerant, cutting out gluten gives their intestines an opportunity to repair themselves, allowing a celiac sufferer to begin absorbing nutrients again and to restore their body back to a better state of health and safer weight.
As for the rest of us, many commercial gluten-free options have simply pulled out their gluten content and replaced it with more sugar, fat and nutritionally deprived forms of starch, in order to substitute gluten’s appealing taste and texture. However, very often, the gluten-free alternative hosts even more carbs, sugar, fat and unhealthy emulsifiers than the original gluten version – definitely not a recipe for successful weight loss.
But as the gluten-free label has also managed to acquire a worry-free health status, a lot of people don’t even bother to flip a package over to check this information out for themselves. For a lot of followers of this diet, the absence of gluten makes all other nutritional realities obsolete. While gluten-free girth reduction is all the rage, what’s not making headlines is the significant proportion of people who end up gaining weight on this diet, left wondering what went wrong.
Commercially made gluten-free products are also not a guaranteed recipe for good health. This occurs when gluten grain flours are simply replaced in a product with refined gluten-free flours instead, like refined rice, corn or potato starches that are empty of the iron, folic acid, fiber and B vitamins that enrich their counterparts. Research studies have shown that a significant number of people who have stuck to their gluten-free diets for a number of years actually acquire nutritional deficiencies in these areas. Also, with the absence of gluten as an agent to bind ingredients together, food manufacturers are often forced to replace it with emulsifiers in their gluten-free products. Many of these commonly used commercial emulsifiers have been scientifically shown to be bad for our health, and emerging studies are even showing that several of them could lead to more threatening long-term risks and weight gain.
Read more about how the most common emulsifiers found in your grocery store products lead to weight gain and health risks here.
Gluten can have damaging health effects on people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and other illnesses, but most healthy people’s guts aren’t harmed by its presence, nor dramatically affected by its absence. Aside from being more costly, a lot of commercially prepared gluten-free products are more carb-heavy, sugar-laden and fattier than their gluten counterparts. Many commercial gluten-free products also tend to be more nutritionally void of particular vitamins and minerals while containing unhealthier, processed and artificial ingredients.
The Genuine Glamour of the Gluten-Free Diet
While many claimants insist that gluten is the root cause behind modern weight gain, obesity and health problems, scientific evidence has yet to prove that gluten is responsible for any such things in healthy individuals. Thereby, it’s important to recognize that “gluten-free” doesn’t mean “guilt-free,” and that you won’t get any closer to your weight loss goal by simply replacing your regular bag of chips with a gluten-free bag of chips. The mere absence of gluten from a product does not magically transform it into a health food, a weight loss product, or something worth spending more of your money on.
However, with all that said, let’s not be so quick to throw out the baby with the bath water – if done right, a gluten-free diet can confer many positive health and weight loss advantages. These advantages stem from the foods that the GF diet encourages a person to include in their daily menus, rather than simply exclude.
This is because several naturally gluten-free foods are very nutrient-dense and, eaten in their whole and unrefined state, can really benefit your health and shed pounds. Turning away from refined grain products and making whole vegetables and fruits the mainstay of your diet instead is one of the best ways to stimulate major fat burning and improve your overall health.
In addition, naturally gluten-free pseudo-grains and whole food grain alternatives – such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, oats, nuts, seeds and beans – often contain more fat-blasting fiber, protein, healthy fatty acids and other nutrients than the traditional wheat products that most people rely too heavily on in their diets. Grain products – which are cheaper to produce – are definitely over-represented in the North American diet. We would all benefit from cutting down on them and seeking out other natural, whole food sources of nutrition that keep our blood sugar and hormones more stable while satiating our appetites better and nourishing our bodies in a more balanced and complete way.
While Hollywood hails the gluten-free diet as a cure-all for weight loss woes, its health and weight loss benefits can only truly be achieved by re-focusing your diet on nature’s own gluten-free, unrefined, clean whole foods, rather than man-made commercial gluten-free products which are often nothing better than glorified – and expensive – junk food.
Confusing the “gluten-free” package label for guilt-free permission to overindulge in processed foods won’t get you any closer to your health and weight loss goals. However, reducing the amount of breads, pastas, baked goods and other grain-based foods that you eat every day and focusing your daily diet on fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts, pulses, seeds and lean meats instead is definitely the right step towards a better lifestyle, improved health and successful, long-term weight loss.
Wishing you much Health & Happiness,
The SLIMQUICK Coach