What exactly is gluten? And can I lose weight if I give it up?

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How often have you heard that we’d all be better off if we eliminated gluten from our diets? That if we did, we’d feel a lot better and might even lose weight. Maybe you’ve already given up gluten and do feel better, but I decided to get some straight answers for all the rest of us.

What exactly is gluten? And can I lose weight if I give it up?

Patsy Catsos/FODMAPs

Patsy Catsos

Here’s what Patsy Catsos, MS, RDN, LD has to say. She’s a registered dietitian nutritionist at Nutrition Works in Portland, ME and author of The IBS Elimination Diet and Cookbook.

Gluten is a particular type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and anything made from them. Wheat products, including anything made with regular flour, are the gluten-containing foods that most Americans eat every day.
People with celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder, must completely avoid gluten. A small number of people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and find that gluten causes specific problems for them, such as joint pains, rashes, or gastrointestinal problems. Most people, however, are unlikely to get any health benefits from avoiding gluten. Instead, they may introduce new problems into their lives: missing out on certain nutrients, paying premium prices for their food, and making it more difficult to enjoy food in restaurants and at the homes of friends and family.

Avoiding gluten is not an effective weight loss strategy for most people. 25 years ago, giving up gluten meant giving up bread, breakfast cereal, donuts, pasta, pizza, bagels, crackers, and desserts. Cutting such a large number of foods out of your diet might have resulted in some weight loss. But in 2017, these foods are easily replaced with gluten-free alternatives. Many of them are highly processed and have even more sugar and fat than the originals. People who eat unlimited amounts of these foods because they are gluten-free are only fooling themselves if they think it will result in weight loss.

What about you?

Have you given up gluten? Why? Tell us about your experience.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.