Is gluten really the enemy?

Apr 09, 2019
Ashley Ann Lawrie

Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
Personal Trainer – Byward Market

Somewhere between the fat free diet and the keto diet was the gluten-free movement. In 2011, Dr. William Davis released the book “Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. This was at the peak of the gluten-free craze as it’s popularity has been steadily rising from 2004 at a rate of 28%. Celebrities all tried it and began to advocate for its health benefits, with the body-transformation champion, Khloe Kardashian at the helm. While we all contemplate trying keto, or paleo, or veganism, or whatever diet is the latest trend in the news, have we forgotten about enemy number 2 (after falsely-accused fat)? Should we worry about gluten again? Could gluten have suffered the same fate as fats did in the 70’s? Read more to find out!

Where Did Gluten Come From?
Gluten is the storage protein of wheat grains. It is a complicated network of proteins and comes in many forms like gliadin (wheat), secalin (rye), hordein (barley), and avenin (oats). Gluten has been in the human diet for years and it’s ability to make a small amount of wheat, water, and salt into a loaf of bread to feed a family with quality nutrients meant that we celebrated this protein.

Unfortunately, with the introduction of industrial farming and the shift to using genetically modified seeds, we are now consuming gluten in foods besides bread and this gluten is not the gluten of our ancestors.

Gluten-Free Diet : Fad or Factual?

Consuming a gluten-free diet is absolutely essential for individuals with diagnosed celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is actually an autoimmune disorder (meaning the bodies immune system will act against the specific tissues in the body). This is incredibly serious, and can even be life-threatening if it goes undiagnosed. For the rest of the population who do not have celiac disease or NCGS, is the gluten-free diet really everything the diet books tell us?

Elephant in the Room

Let’s get this out of the way right away – can the gluten-free diet help us to lose unwanted weight? The research is mixed.

In studies where they implemented a gluten-free diet for celiac patients, some say that BMI improved and all patients lost weight. Another study looked at patient records from 1991 to 2007 and found that between their first record and their final record, the incidence of obesity in patients almost doubled from 11% to 21%.

So which one is it?
For both of these studies, the gluten-free diet was being integrated into a celiac individual’s life. Going gluten-free was out of necessity and not for the purpose of weight-loss. In fact, the second study mentioned was urging for better nutritional follow-up to ensure that when celiac individuals switch to a gluten-free diet that they are paying attention to their nutrition and not just eating bags of those chocolate covered glutino pretzels!

As with many major dietary changes, an individual’s decision to switch to a gluten-free diet may lead to weight-loss simply because they are becoming more conscious of what they are eating. So much of the eating we do in a day is unconscious and so we end up consuming too much, too little, or too much junk. By making an effort to eat a certain way, people are more likely to make other healthy choices as well. Remember – the best diet is the one you stick to! So yes, a gluten-free diet can help you lose weight if the rest of your diet is also getting re-evaluated and updated.

Other Benefits of Gluten-Free Eating

Gluten is found is a lot of food like soy sauce, beer, licorice, imitation crab meats, canned soups, and malt products, so when someone decides to go gluten-free and they commit to absolutely no foods with gluten, then they will likely begin to eat a more whole-food diet. Eating more whole-foods means better nutrient density and quality, and a more balanced diet.

A gluten-free diet can also help those with irritable bowel syndrome. The best way to manage IBS is by following a low FODMAP diet (fermentable oligo-,di-, monosaccharides and polyols). When gluten is consumed, it is easily fermented by the bacteria in the gut which can lead to painful cramping, bloating, and gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and constipation. So if you know you have IBS, then cutting out gluten from your life can be a good option for you!

Can a Gluten-Free Diet Be Bad For You?

In some cases choosing to go gluten-free can have negative effects. Gluten from crops is also associated with important sources of fiber and iron, so if you go gluten-free and don’t seek out suitable alternatives for these then you could run into health problems.

Going gluten-free when you don’t have a medical reason to also limits the variety of food you can consume. Studies have shown that the more restrictive your diet, the greater your chances of having depression.

So before you revisit the gluten-free craze, think about what you’re really looking for? If weight-loss is the goal, then a gluten-free diet could help you get there – but a balanced diet of whole foods can as well.

We have to stress that we are not dieticians or doctors, so any nutritional advice we provide on the blog is not meant to treat disease or act as a prescription. The blog and all of its topics are simply here to start the conversation and give you something to think about.

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