Gretchen Scalpi is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, author and Certified Wellcoach®.
In the past few years, we have seen an increase in the variety and availability of gluten free product choices. The gluten free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease and people with the condition must learn how to change their diet. But lately, clients without celiac disease are asking whether they should go on a gluten free diet to lose weight or improve their health. After all, gluten free products are readily available in grocery stores. Numerous books, magazines and celebrities are singing praises of the diet, so why not?
The short answer to this question is “it depends on your circumstances.” Understand exactly what your needs and goals for following such a plan may be, and that should help you answer the question. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten intolerance that damages the intestinal tract and causes a host of other health problems in persons with the condition, then gluten free the only way to go. There are also people who have sensitivity to wheat and wheat products (a.k.a. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity), and following the gluten free diet benefits this group as well.
As for everyone else, there may be no specific health benefit to following a gluten free diet, especially the diet is not well planned. There is no evidence-based science to support claims that a gluten free diet will help one lose weight either.
It’s important to consider the cost and content of gluten free foods. In case you haven’t noticed, gluten free foods are quite expensive; a loaf of gluten free bread, for example costs $6- $8 per loaf. Many packaged gluten free foods are made from highly processed flours or starches (such as white rice, tapioca starch or potato flour) to replace wheat flour. This is especially true when you examine the ingredient labels of many gluten free breads, crackers or cookies. Some of these items contain more sugar or fat than ordinary wheat products in order to make the food more palatable and shelf stable. So, in some cases, manufactured gluten free products actual have less health benefit than the wheat counterparts.
If you have decided to go gluten (or wheat) free, there’s no harm in doing so, as long as you plan it right. Instead of packaged gluten free products, focus on the many wonderful foods that are gluten free naturally. Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat are just a few of the nutritious replacements for wheat-based products. Healthful foods such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free. Whole, unprocessed meats, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese and milk are excellent sources of protein without gluten. Any eating plan that includes a variety of these whole foods will be very healthful, whether you go gluten free or not. As for the packaged gluten free products, it’s important to do your homework and know exactly what you are buying!
Gretchen Scalpi is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, author and Certified Wellcoach®. Gretchen has worked with hundreds of clients in her own private nutrition practice since 2002, providing nutrition and wellness coaching in the areas of diabetes, weight management, food sensitivities, and general wellness. Gretchen provides lectures and workshops on a variety of nutrition topics to corporate and community groups. She is the author of the "Pre-Diabetes: Your Second Chance at Health," and "Quick Start Recipes for Healthy Meals". To learn more about Gretchen, her books, or to subscribe her newsletter visit http://www.nutritionxpert.com/products.