Will going gluten-free help with weight loss?

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Following a gluten-free diet is one of the most popular suggestions in the world of fad diets and bold promises for weight loss. Maybe you read a persuasive blog that boasts the benefits of gluten-free eating as a magical way to get rid of your problems, or you heard from a friend that she dropped twenty pounds by cutting out gluten.  

Advice on eliminating gluten seems to pop up everywhere, so naturally, you may be wondering: should you go gluten-free for weight loss? 

In short, probably not. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye products. If you are someone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), avoiding gluten is beneficial and usually necessary. For those who do not have one of these diagnoses, eliminating gluten is not necessary. Yes, even for those who want to lose weight.   

Celiac disease is characterized by an autoimmune reaction to gluten. In other words, someone with this condition is hypersensitive to gluten, and ingesting foods with this protein leads to intestinal damage, malabsorption of nutrients, and symptoms such as diarrhea, fatigue, and gas. Those with NCGS may have similar symptoms when eating gluten, and cutting out gluten is therefore reasonable and helpful.  

A Naturally Gluten-free Diet is Healthy 

Following a gluten-free diet, especially when done in a healthful way, can promote weight loss, but with some caveats. In fact, those who claim success with losing weight due to avoiding gluten probably increased their consumption of naturally gluten-free foods, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats. At the same time, they may have cut back on breads, pastas, and baked goods, all of which contain gluten and usually lack fiber or other nutrients.  

This style of eating can promote weight loss and overall health, but you can employ the exact same concepts without completely eliminating gluten. While restricting gluten can lead to cutting back on sweets and processed bread products, it can also lead to avoiding gluten-containing whole grains that provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Not to mention, unnecessary restrictions can promote overeating after periods of avoidance.   

People who follow a gluten-free diet to lose weight with little success often make the mistake of perceiving packaged foods labeled “gluten-free” as healthier than their gluten-filled counterparts. They may stock up on gluten-free breads, pastas, or snacks with the thought that these products are objectively healthy because they do not have gluten.  

In fact, these products are essentially the same as the regular options, and usually contain refined flours and added sugars. Not only do they provide no additional benefits from a nutrition perspective, they also tend to cost more.  

In order to lose weight and live your healthiest life, you do not need to follow an overly restrictive diet and eliminate gluten. Instead, aim to eat meals with lots of vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats, all of which are naturally gluten-free. Unless you have celiac disease of NCGS, completely avoiding gluten if not necessary for weight loss or for your overall health. 

Note from HFLM: Our delicious meal plans are crafted with your health in mind! With an optimal distribution of lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates from fruits, veggies, and whole grains, our meal plans are a great option for those who want to lose weight and get healthy. Get started today. 

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Stef Keegan