You’ve heard: Going gluten-free will help you lose weight and improve your health.
The truth: Gluten-free foods still contain calories and won’t automatically boost your health or slim you down. In fact, many experts say gluten-free products might not be worth the higher price. Unless you are truly allergic to gluten and have the autoimmune disorder known as celiac disease (which only applies to one in 133 Americans, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation), going gluten free may not make much of a difference.
According to Italian researchers, whose editorial piece was published in the February 2012 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, there just isn’t enough scientific evidence to conclude that a gluten-free diet alleviates symptoms in patients that don’t have celiac disease. Instead, they suggest that people who go without gluten may believe they feel better simply because of the ‘hype’ surrounding this diet (like Miley Cyrus’s recent gluten-free endorsement and weight loss).
You may also start to feel better as a result of adopting an overall healthier lifestyle. “When we get on any sort of health kick or jump on board with a new fad, we also add in exercise, drink more water, watch our sugar, and cut down alcohol," says Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist, eating strategist, and owner of Essential Nutrition for You. "This has nothing to do with being gluten free but just downright healthy!”
If you go from eating a diet heavy in refined, processed foods (that contain gluten) to eating more fresh, whole foods (that are naturally gluten-free), you are more likely to lose weight and feel better. But if you simply swap out whole-wheat bread for rice bread, there's really no calorie difference, so don’t just do it to lose weight, Batayneh says.
Bottom line: A cupcake is still a cupcake, and making it ‘gluten free’ won’t suddenly turn it into a health food. Save your money by skipping gluten-free packaged foods and focus on filling your diet with as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible.