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Gluten-free diet is not magic bullet for weight loss


It is hard not to notice the increase of gluten-free foods currently available at the grocery store. These foods, available for people with celiac sprue or gluten intolerance, have dramatically increased over the past five to seven years. Interestingly, many people purchasing the foods are not choosing them because they are intolerant; they are choosing them as a weight loss tool.


Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is responsible for giving bread its spongy texture and makes pizza dough stretchy. It is present in bread, cereal, cookies, cakes and crackers.


For a person with celiac sprue, consuming gluten can cause pain, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue and weight loss. It damages the small intestine and can impair the ability to absorb nutrients. Eliminating gluten is critical for health and quality of life for someone with gluten intolerance.


Eliminating gluten in the diet means no more pizza, pretzels, favorite breakfast cereals, pastries and pasta. Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist with MU Extension, says that it is easy to see why people lose weight when they stop eating those foods. “They are all foods that can be high in calories.”


The problem with using gluten-free products for weight loss is that they may be lacking important nutrients. Some of the gluten-free breads, pastas and breakfast cereals are made with refined rice or corn flour. Refined wheat-based products are enriched meaning that thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron have been added for nutritional value. Rice and corn flours are not enriched. Gluten-free foods can contain more sugar, fat and calories because sugar and fat are added to improve the texture and taste.


“If you think you are saving calories or carbs by eating gluten-free bread, just read the label” said Roberts. “A slice of gluten-free bread has 15 grams of carbohydrate which is exactly the same as regular bread.”


If you cut out cake, cookies, crackers and some bread, you will probably lose some weight but you can’t assume that just because something is gluten-free that it is healthy. People with celiac sprue as well as dieters must read food labels closely and choose a wide variety of wholesome foods from all of the food groups.


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Last update: Monday, February 27, 2012