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Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley and can be found in a large variety of foods that we eat. Gluten-free nutrition therapy is only indicated for individuals who suffer from gluten intolerance or have a condition called celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune ailment in which a person is unable to metabolize gluten and causes symptoms including diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal distention, and electrolyte depletion.
Today, many people who have not been diagnosed with celiac disease and experience no symptoms have given up gluten in an attempt to lose weight. A gluten free diet eliminates any food containing wheat, barley or rye. Bread, pizza, pasta, most cereals, cookies and cakes made with traditional white or whole wheat flour all contain gluten, so therefore are not allowed on a gluten-free diet. Gluten is also present in not so obvious products as well including many soups, pasta sauces, salad dressings, packaged meals and frozen dinners which contain gluten in the form of soy sauce, barley malt or modified food starch. A strict gluten free diet requires you to study food labels to avoid gluten-containing ingredients.
The demand for gluten free products is very high and there are more products on the market today that are “gluten-free.” Gluten-free products were not readily available in the past. The little amount of gluten-free foods that were available in the past did not taste very good. Going gluten free is easier than ever nowadays because of improvements in labeling and greater awareness. Stores such as Whole Foods even have specific shopping guides for gluten free shoppers.
A gluten-free diet that eliminates refined flour and simple sugars (such as those found in packaged cookies and snacks) will improve health and help with weight loss. Many people report feeling better and more energized after giving up gluten. For these reasons, people who do not have gluten intolerance may follow a gluten-free diet to aid in weight loss. However those who follow a gluten-free diet for weight loss still need to be careful because gluten-free products may still contain a significant amount of calories. In fact, some gluten-free products have more calories than their gluten-containing counterparts because of added sugars and the presence of white rice flour and potato starch. Gluten-free on a label does not mean that a product is low calorie or healthful.
In conclusion, if your doctor prescribes you a gluten-free diet, you must follow it. If you follow a gluten-free diet for weight loss, it is important to still follow sound nutritional practices which means including a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and proteins, and limiting refined sugars and fatty/fried foods.
Answer submitted by Mia Handell, registered and licensed dietitian at Provena Mercy Medical Center.