Eating a gluten-free diet is definitely a trend which appears set to continue. Everywhere you look there are gluten-free food options; in the supermarket aisles and your local farmers’ market, as well as on restaurant menus and even in fast food chains. Furthermore, it is viewed as the ‘trendy’ thing to do: you will no doubt have seen countless celebrities bestowing the virtues of a gluten-free diet and boasting about their weight loss successes. But, are gluten-free alternatives healthy?
The truth is that yes, you will lose weight if you give up eating foods which contain gluten. However, it is not the gluten which can be commended for your weight loss – it is avoiding all of the bad foods which are loaded with dense quantities of refined carbohydrates. From white pasta and bread, to biscuits, cakes, croissants and pastries. They all contain gluten, but they also all contain an eye-watering level of refined carbohydrates (which your body turns to sugar), as well as refined sugar and fat.
However, whilst we don’t actually need gluten in our diets we do need whole grain carbohydrates as fuel. There has been much research into a gluten-free diet and it appears it isn’t all that healthy after all. Many people choose gluten-free food alternatives thinking that they are the healthy option when, in actual fact, they aren’t quite as they seem. For a start, the majority of gluten-free options (such as bread, pasta, bagels, biscuits, snacks etc.) are all refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are processed so they are very low in important dietary fibre and nutrients, and they cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then plummet, which leaves you more prone to snacking and overeating.
Furthermore, most gluten-free alternatives are higher in carbohydrates than the ‘real’ and original gluten-containing food. They are also often higher in calories, sugar and salt too, to compensate for loss of taste. So giving up gluten-containing foods, only to switch to gluten-free alternatives, will see your weight loss results stutter and stop.
Gluten intolerance is often blamed for a whole host of symptoms, including eczema, acne, fatigue, weight loss/gain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and depression. And if you suffer from a digestive condition called coeliac disease then it is paramount you avoid gluten forlife. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition. This means the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue accidentally as it thinks that substances in gluten are a threat to the body. This causes damage to the intestines and, over time, affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
There is no doubt that many people are sensitive to gluten and benefit from a gluten-free diet. However, it is not medically possible to diagnose food intolerances. And in many medical circles, GPs dispute that food intolerances even exist. Yet many people do feel better for avoiding or limiting their intake of gluten, wheat, dairy or soya.
If you feel gluten-free works for you then it is important to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Your body needs whole grain carbohydrates for fuel and there are plenty of natural gluten-free options out there. Brown rice, oats, quinoa, nuts, pulses and legumes to name but a few. Also, plenty of lean protein is essential to your overall health and wellbeing, as is eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 portions a day).