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In the past three years, my friend has lost over seventy pounds and he did it in part by eliminating all forms of gluten from his diet. Similarly, four years ago my cousin was diagnosed with celiac disease, a sensitivity to gluten, yet her weight has barely budged. Both new lifestyles involved taking gluten out of their diets. However, only one lost a considerable amount of weight. The importance of gluten in the human diet has recently become a hotspot for nutritional debate. Popular inquiries surround whether gluten is imperative to our diets and if the absence of it could lead to weight loss. Today, many continue to ask the question, is going gluten free the healthiest and best choice to lose weight? 

“Gluten itself does not offer special nutritional benefits. But the many whole grains that contain gluten do.”1 Gluten is found in foods processed from wheat and other certain grains such as barley and rye.2 These foods are very rich in an array of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which, along with a healthy diet, may help to lower the risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer.

As heart disease remains one of the highest killers of Americans today, the importance of consuming gluten and whole grains gains significance. In a study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 35,000 women aged 55-69 monitored their intake of whole grain to see if there was a relationship between eating it and a reduced risk of death due to heart disease and cancer.3 The study allowed women to continue with their usual dietary intake and a control group outside this main pool was initiated. The results showed the comparison between the amount of whole wheat consumed with the presence of heart disease and cancer and found that a causal association seemed likely because women who ate more whole grain tended to have less cancers and heart disease. This comparison study, along with many others, suggests that the nutrients in whole grains including gluten are important in reducing the risk of some chronic diseases. More specifically, a causal association seems plausible because whole grain foods contain things such as fiber and antioxidants that may reduce chronic disease risk.3 The study was adjusted for demographics, behavior, and other relative variables, and it still concluded that a diet including whole grains seems to lower the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Researchers continue to suggest that grains are very essential in a normal diet, and at least half of all grains eaten should be whole grains according to the United States Department of Agriculture.4

However, in the attempt to lose weight, many people believe that a significant reduction or complete elimination of grains and other carbohydrates will do the trick. Thus, gluten free diets become a prominent choice.  Advocators believe that it can have a variety of health benefits including “improving cholesterol levels, promoting digestive health, and increasing energy levels.”5

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of a gluten free diet, some argue, is that the elimination of gluten products also could lead to the elimination of many unhealthy foods. Pizza, cake, doughnuts, pasta, and fried breaded foods such fried chicken and mozzarella sticks are all off limits due to their gluten content. However, the elimination of unhealthy food options such as these does not automatically correlate to weight loss, nor does it always provide that the new nutrition is more beneficial for weight loss than a diet including gluten.

So why did my friend Mitch manage to lose so much weight, yet my cousin Ashley was not affected? A probable reasoning for this question resides in the differences between what Mitch and Ashley ate in place of gluten. Ashley sought out many gluten free substitutes for dishes such as pizza and sandwiches buns that were made with rice flour instead of gluten.6 However, simply because the gluten was eliminated, it does not guarantee the meals were healthier. In fact, often times the elimination of carbohydrates correlates to a higher intake of fats. Furthermore, by Ashley choosing gluten free pizza, for example, she still consumed the other nutrients in pizza that would not necessarily assist in weight reduction such as high contents of salt.

On the other hand, Mitch avoided all foods that are associated with gluten, even foods that substituted it out. He did not consume the gluten free pizzas, sandwich breads, or pastas. In one slice of gluten free bread there are 75 calories, 280 mg of sodium, 22 g of total carbohydrates, and 1 g of fiber. Comparatively, in a slice of whole wheat bread there are 69 calories, 112 mg of sodium, 12 g of total carbohydrates, and 1.9 g of fiber.7 Yet, it is important to note that not all gluten replacement foods are higher in calories, sodium, and carbohydrates than their gluten counterparts.

Moreover, what marks a significant difference between the two is that Mitch added immense amounts of fruits and vegetables to his diet. It was not just the elimination of gluten; it was the elimination of processed foods that contained gluten and foods high in all bad fats, salt, and extensive calorie content. Most importantly in doing so he became more aware of nutrition and its benefits towards living a healthier lifestyle.

While more and more grocery stores stock up on gluten free products and rumors spread about whether this is the new weight loss fad, the gluten free diet is not the healthiest or best choice to lose weight. The bottom line is that gluten free does not guarantee a reduction in calories or an elimination of foods deemed unhealthy. For normal diets, it is important to maintain a healthy consumption of foods with gluten in them to provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Finally, when comparing diets such as Mitch and Ashley’s, there are other profound factors that involve biology. In an attempt to lose weight or not, you should always be knowledgeable on what you eat and what will individually assist you for a long time.

 

 

Works Cited:

  1. Jaret, Peter. “The Truth About Gluten.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.
  2. PubMed.gov. “Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Mar. 2006. Web. 09 Mar. 2014.
  3. David R Jacobs Jr, Katie A Meyer, Lawrence H Kushi, and Aaron R Folsom. “Whole-grain Intake May Reduce the Risk of Ischemic Heart Disease Death in Postmenopausal Women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 1998. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
  4. “How Many Grain Foods Are Needed Daily?” How Much Grain Do You Need? United States Department of Agriculture, 2014. Web. 09 Mar. 2014.
  5. “The Health Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet.” BistroMD Health Library. BistroMD, 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.
  6. Allrich, Kartina. “Baking Substitutions for Gluten-Free and More.” Gluten-Free Goddess. Gluten-Free Goddess, 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
  7. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. “Show Foods.” Show Foods. United States Department of Agriculture, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
  8. Michaels, Jillian. “Myth: If You Want To Slim Down, Go Gluten-Free.”JillianMichaels.com. Everyday Health, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.
  9. Bardot, JB. “The Top 5 Foods to Avoid If You Have Gluten Intolerance and Wheat Allergies.” Natural News. Natural News Network, 29 Feb. 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

 

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