Those who suffer from celiac disease can't eat gluten, a protein found in the grains wheat, barley, rye and triticale. To manage the disease, which affects the small intestine, the patient must eliminate gluten entirely from his diet. Although a gluten-free diet is best suited for medical situations, some view it as a way to live healthier or lose weight -- though that's not necessarily supported by science.
Although the main role of a gluten-free diet is to treat celiac disease, it also works for those who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This occurs when people who do not test positive for celiac still experience negative symptoms after eating gluten. The difference between the two is in protein's effect on the small intestine -- those with celiac experience damage to the organ and are unable to absorb nutrients from food. They also have uncomfortable symptoms such as stomachaches, while those with gluten sensitivity only experience the symptoms.
Plenty of foods are naturally gluten-free, which means you don't have to resort to processed gluten-free breads, crackers and baked goods. Options include fresh meat, fish and poultry that have not been breaded, batter-coated or marinated; beans, nuts and seeds; eggs; fruits and vegetables; and dairy products that have not been mixed with gluten-containing additives or preservatives. You can also enjoy gluten-free grains, such as buckwheat, corn, quinoa, rice and teff.
Check the ingredient listing to determine if a food contains barley, including malt or malt flavoring, rye, triticale or wheat; if so, it's off-limits. Other names for wheat products include durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt. Products that could be made from a gluten-containing grain include beer, bread, baked goods, cereal, french fries, gravy, pasta, lunch meat, salad dressing, soy sauce and soups. Common food additives such as baking powder, modified food starch, dextrin, maltodextrin, vegetable gums and proteins, and artificial and natural flavors and colorings can also be "hidden" sources of gluten, though this is not an exhaustive list.
You also have to watch out for cross-contamination, which is the contamination of gluten-free foods with gluten-containing foods. This easily occurs with oats, which are often made in the same facility as products made with gluten. Choose to eat these products only if they are clearly labeled "gluten-free." Additionally, grains and other foods bought from the bulk section of a grocery store risk cross-contamination, so it's safer to purchase only packaged foods labeled "gluten-free." In your kitchen, be sure to store gluten-free foods separately from gluten-containing foods and thoroughly clean all kitchenware and surfaces after using with gluten-containing foods.
Research doesn't support the claim that a gluten-free diet alone will result in weight loss, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But because many healthy foods are naturally gluten-free -- such as lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables -- a gluten-free diet can, if calories are kept in check, result in weight loss. To achieve this, however, you must choose healthy, low-calorie gluten-free foods rather than processed gluten-free products such as cookies or cakes. If you don't suffer from celiac or gluten-sensitivity, a gluten-free diet can be risky because you are not likely to get enough iron, calcium, zinc and B-vitamins, registered dietitian Katherine Tallmadge tells U.S. News and World Report. In short, she says, don't go on a gluten-free diet solely for weight-loss purposes.
- MayoClinic.org: Gluten-Free Diet
- American Diabetes Association: Gluten-Free Diets
- Cleveland Clinic: The Surprising Truth About Gluten-Free Food and Weight Loss
- U.S. News and World Report: Is a Gluten-Free Diet Smart for Weight Loss?
- Amy Meyers, MD: The Troublesome Twenty: Hidden Gluten Ingredients
- Celiac Disease Foundation: Sources of Gluten