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Gluten-free diet is the latest fad for weight loss. But what’s the truth?

A gluten-free diet is not intended to be a weight-loss diet. Instead, it’s supposed to help those who suffer from Celiac Disease or are gluten-sensitive after testing. Avoiding gluten can potentially limit your intake of fibre, vitamins and minerals, says Priyanka Lulla, Clinical Dietician at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat (such as wheat flour, broken wheat, semolina, bread, pasta, baked goods and snack foods), barley, rye, and spelt bread. (Representational Photo)
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Written by Priyanka Lulla

There is a popular perception that gluten-free foods are healthier and just because some of us have a sensitive digestive system, we should drop gluten from our diet and keep it light. Let me state at the very outset that a gluten-free diet is not intended to be a weight-loss diet. Instead, it’s supposed to help those who suffer from celiac disease or are gluten-sensitive after testing. Avoiding gluten can potentially limit your intake of fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat (such as wheat flour, broken wheat, semolina, bread, pasta, baked goods and snack foods), barley, rye, and spelt bread. A gluten-free diet involves excluding foods that contain the protein gluten. It is the primary treatment for Celiac Disease and may help alleviate symptoms in various conditions like Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). If you have a gluten-related disorder, you must avoid gluten completely because if you don’t, you may experience severe discomfort and adverse health effects such as bloating, gas and diarrhoea. However, there is currently no evidence showing that a gluten-free diet is effective for weight loss or for general health benefits.

• Avoiding foods that contain gluten, without adding other nutrient sources to the diet, can lead to deficiencies. People on a strict gluten-free diet are seen to have inadequate intake of not only fibre, iron, and calcium but also B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate. As it lacks fibre, constipation is a common side-effect.

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• To mimic the functional and sensory effects of gluten, many gluten-free products may be enriched with less healthy ingredients. Some processed gluten-free foods contain high amounts of sodium, sugar, fats and additives to make them palatable. Consuming these foods can lead to weight gain, blood sugar swings, high blood pressure and other problems. So, a gluten-free label doesn’t necessarily make a food healthy.

• Several studies have also found that people with higher intake of whole grains, including whole wheat (2-3 servings daily), compared with groups eating lesser amounts (that is, less than two servings daily) had significantly lower risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and deaths from all these causes. People avoiding gluten mostly have a decreased intake of fibre as well. A diet deprived of fibre is associated with an increased levels of total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and a decrease in serum levels of HDL-cholesterol. It may also entail the development of metabolic syndrome.

• Gluten containing fibre-rich foods like wheat, barley and rye may act as prebiotics, feeding the “good” bacteria in our bodies. It contains a prebiotic carbohydrate called arabinoxylan oligosaccharide that has been shown to stimulate the activity of bifidobacteria in the colon, bacteria normally found in a healthy human gut.

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Dysbiosis, that is, a change in the amount or activity of these bacteria has been associated with gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Therefore, for individuals who don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there is no need to restrict gluten consumption.

A healthy dietary pattern typically consists of adequate amounts of all food groups like cereals, pulses, dairy, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, adequate hydration along with physical activity on a daily basis are essential for a healthy weight loss.

First published on: 07-12-2022 at 11:58 IST
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