8 Things to Know About Going Gluten-Free

By , Arricca Elin SanSone, Woman's Day
Everyone seems to be on a gluten-free diet, and new gluten-free products keep cropping up on store shelves. But is gluten really bad for you? And can nixing it help you lose weight? “Many people are misinformed about who should be on a gluten-free diet,” says KT Park, MD, a clinical researcher and gastroenterologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. “Unless you have celiac disease or another medical reason to avoid gluten, a gluten-free diet isn’t beneficial.” So before loading your shopping cart with gluten-free foods, here’s what to keep in mind.

1. Some folks need to go gluten-free.

About 1% of people have celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating and damage to the small intestine’s lining. Celiac disease is diagnosed with a blood test, looking for celiac-specific antibodies, and an intestinal biopsy. The only treatment: avoiding all gluten-containing products. People with celiac disease who continue eating gluten have a higher risk of certain serious conditions, like osteoporosis, anemia and some cancers, says Dr. Park.

2. Others may benefit from going gluten-free.

Experts believe about 6% of people have gluten sensitivity. The symptoms mimic celiac disease, but blood tests don’t show celiac-specific antibodies and biopsies don’t reveal intestinal damage. Because research on gluten sensitivity still is emerging, treatment depends on the person, says Dr. Park. For example, your doctor may suggest trying a gluten-free diet and keeping a symptom diary.

3. Going gluten-free doesn’t help most people.

“There’s no medical evidence that avoiding gluten is a healthier way to eat,” says Molly Cooke, MD, president of the American College of Physicians. What if you feel healthier on a gluten-free diet? “If you’re eating more brightly colored foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and eating fewer processed foods, like white bread, you may feel better because you’re eating more nutritiously—not because you’re avoiding gluten,” explains Dr. Cooke.

4. Avoiding gluten doesn't promote weight loss.

Despite celebrities who swear going gluten-free sheds pounds, it’s not a magic bullet. “There’s no scientific evidence to show that removing gluten from your diet results in weight loss,” says Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian specializing in gluten-related disorders. In fact, many gluten-free foods have extra sugar and fat to improve their taste, which could make you gain weight, adds Dr. Park.

Read more about Going Gluten-Free from Woman's Day.

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I recently started a gluten free diet as per Dr.s advice. My belly was very swollen after surgery to repair a ventral hernia. Doc did a full abdominal CAT scan plus a more in depth 4 stage liver scan. Found I have a hiatal hernia, plus nodes on my liver and lungs (which he says are benign and will be watched carefully tho) Other than that, he thinks my bloating is due to abdominal inflammation which may be helped by a gluten free (and if I can a lactose free) diet. I started the gluten free, so far so good. I read the Wheat Belly book which helped me understand what may be going on in my body. And it occured to me, prior to my hernia surgery, I had been doing the Weight Watchers Simply filling plan and was eating a TON of wheat/whole grain based items! Probably what threw my body into wheat overload, lol...I also have Hashimoto's thyroid and am not noticing a huge weight change over the past month, up and down 5 lbs:( I purchased a nice size bag of Gluten Free all purpose flour at a great price at our local Sam's club and I try to adapt any recipes using flour that I have with it. My next step is to cut down on the rice and potatoes, even tho they are gluten free...to see if that helps jumpstart some weightloss. I know that milk bothers me, but cheeses or eggs or other dairy like sour cream, cream cheese doesn't seem to have any dire effects..Some positive things I have noticed in the last gluten free month, I have been sleeping better! After years of insomina this is incredible! Plus, my rosacea has calmed down quite significantly, enough for me to leave the house with no makeup! I feel good and my clothes seem to be fitting better even tho the weight loss isn't that great, don't get that lol, maybe it's water bloat going down...so I will continue this at least til my next doc appt in Dec and see where I am at that point. Good luck everyone, it's certainly not easy! Report
So much of this "celebrity talk" about gluten free frustrates me. I am gluten sensitive. The tests do not show that I'm gluten intolerant, but my body sure does....and it's miserable. However, some people are not very accepting or compassionate for lack of a better word because they assume it's just a fad diet I'm trying. It has not affected my weight at all going gluten free, I was eating very clean before my diagnosis anyway. So, I can say that eating clean, cutting out processed foods, fresh whole foods, without chemicals is what makes the difference in fueling your body correctly. Report
I tried going Gluten free and within days most of my hip pain was gone. I wish I had tried this before I had my hip replacement. Report
I will see in two weeks if my skin and joints show a difference. Thanks for this article. Report
Post surgery they recommended gluten free. I am glad I read this article for perspective. Report
I know it is as life saver for those who suffer from celiac disease, but otherwise it is just the diet during jour. I am suspicious of any plan that has you cut out whole groups of food. Report
I went gluten-free for a while -- I definitely felt much better, but a big part of it, as pps have mentioned, is that it forced me to rely more on whole foods and home cooking, and I cut out TONS of junk. This was before gluten-free diets were common, so there wasn't the same proliferation of store-bought, highly processed gluten-free foods. I have every confidence that gluten-free works for a lot of people, but I know for me, it wasn't the gluten that was making me feel sick in the first place. Report
One more thing, after dropping gluten and the weight, I am now off blood pressure meds. I don't need any meds at all, not even cholesterol meds. Report
I dropped gluten and my psoriasis cleared up, and the eczema all over my face went away. I dropped 25 lbs (1-2 lbs each week) in a fairly short time, because I was forced to replace with more veggies and fruits.

As for me, I totally don't agree with this article. Wheat, for one, promotes inflammation. If you have auto-immune disease such as I had, or arthritis, etc., try coming off gluten for two weeks. If you feel better, super. If it makes no difference, go back to gluten and fatten up. I miss pigging out on gluten, but I'm never going back to it. Never. Report
This is what exactly I was searching, the information was overall very useful for me, thanks a lot.
Everything in moderation. Thank you spark for posting this! Report
For me, gluten sensitivity shows up in back pain, swollen fingers, and more breakout prone skin. I would like to attribute some of my excess weight to gluten intolerance. I don't know about that, just wishful thinking! But, there may be some small truth to it. I agree that when I have cut back Consistently on wheat gluten and limit the corn gluten, it also winds up limiting or eliminating most processed foods (for me) an I notice my weight shifting or dropping a little. Cooking from scratch (consistently) does take more time and discipline than I have. I think that there are a lot more people who have some degree of gluten sensitivity or even intolerance that are not celiac. A young man at my church is battling Crohn's and does not eat wheat. My cousin is even sensitive to corn gluten and stays away from both wheat and corn gluten, but is able to tolerate other gluten like from potatoes. Like me, his back and, for him, his guts hurt when he eats something with it in it without knowing, and then hurts later. Sometimes in as little as thirty minutes!! The only thing is to experiment, and eliminate with a doctor's help, what it isn't. Bottom line, a person knows when they feel like crap or feels good. I'm glad to find more attention is being paid to the whole picture of the gluten issue! I just wish there were more recipes that didn't have xanthan or guar-guar gum in them! Good luck to all who are in the struggle to get healthier! Report
I second the recommendations to read Wheat Belly and to try going gluten free for 30 days to see the amazing difference it can make. That said avoiding gluten is only easy and inexpensive if you cook yourself using whole foods. Report
I have been gluten free for a little over a year and will never go back because it has changed my life. I sleep better, have freedom from cravings, my depression lifted, arthritis & fibromyalgia pain has lessened. Just had bloodwork done for my anniversay, results were fantastic cholesterol down more than 100 points to 192, blood pressure down and my A1C (diabetes numbers) much better. Oh and did I tell you that I have lost 30 lbs effortlessly as I have willpower. I do not see it as a diet, it is a whole new way of living and I love it. Try it for 30 days and see how you feel.
Every body and everybody is different. I don't have celiac, but I decided to go gluten free in January 2013. Week 1 was terrible since my body was clearly addicted to sugars and gluten, week 2 I felt normal again, week 3 I noticed that I was less hungry and therefore eating less throughout the day and my energy levels had completely changed. So far I've lost 40 pounds just by eliminated gluten from my diet. I always ate fairly healthy, and I don't eat many gluten replacements. Will you have the same results? Maybe, maybe not. I found that for me it made a huge difference and I have seen weight loss. I've had a couple cheats now and again recently and it really derails my entire system, so for me staying gluten free is just a healthier way to live.

I'd recommend that if you want to try it, you do it for at least a month consistently and that you stay away from processed anything or other forms of sugar. If not for weight loss, just to help with energy levels throughout the day. That's my 2 cents! Report
Gluten is not a food group. It is found in some grains but not others so the elimination of gluten is not the elimination of all grains.

Many people have seen a vast improvement in their health after cutting gluten out of their diet. I am one of them. I was never diagnosed as celiac officially and don't really care to make myself sick just to take some arbitrary test to confirm something I already know. I get sick when I eat gluten and that's all I need to know.

I don't find gluten free to be expensive either. Sure you can spend a small fortune on gluten free Oreos and breads but I prefer to eat fresh vegetables and fruit which are very inexpensive and are incredibly healthy too! Report
I've been mostly gluten-free for about six months. I'm not 100% strict about it because I don't have Celiac disease. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroid years ago and have struggled with IBS symptoms most of my adult life. This was getting worse and I had a bad rash on the back of my left thumb...just there. When I cut out gluten within a week the rash was gone and my IBS symptoms were very much improved. In the past six months when I have eaten a gluten food the symptoms return for a few days including a mild version of the rash on my thumb. It's weird but it's like a gluten indicator for me. Eating gluten free is a real pain but has been worth it to me to reduce these symptoms. Report
I have a wheat and dairy allergy, so I avoid all foods with those things. Gluten is found in so many products on the shelves that it is extremely difficult to shop for groceries in a household where I'm the only person with food allergies. Products that are geared towards gluten-free consumers are outrageously expensive, which makes it twice as difficult to afford to stock up on groceries. Report
I have gone gluten-free over the last few months because of a pretty bad gluten sensitivity. It is not easy, not cheap, not fun, and doesn't help you lose weight unless, like the article says, you're just eating less junk. Gluten is hidden in so many ridiculous places, it blows my mind. I can't imagine why anybody would want to do this if they didn't have a legitimate medical reason to. Report
I have been wheat and gluten free for 2 months- I lost fluid retention that had plagued my legs for years. I visibly have 0 fluid retention in my legs! I no longer have inflammation pain all over my body. I used the wheat Belly dot com program. Am loving it. Report
Going gluten free when you don't have to can actually CAUSE problems when you do it. GF is not fun and is very expensive! Report
I would like add to this article that gluten is not the only substance in grains that may cause similar symptoms as in celiac disease. Severe hay allergy may cause cross allergies to several grains. Report
Keep in mind that personal experience is not a replacement for solid scientific research. Without labs and blood tests, it's impossible to know what truly causes improvements in health. Anyone can publish a book, and "Wheat Belly" is full of soft science and unsupported claims. It's compelling, but ultimately not supported by the facts. And full of those "blanket statements" you don't trust.

If going gluten-free helps you feel better, that's great! Don't assume that those of us who have not chosen this way just haven't read the right books or whatnot. No one goes gluten-free without major lifestyle changes, because gluten-free is a pain in the butt and complicated for most people who actually have to do it for actual health reasons (like real celiac disease.)

I've heard lots of miraculous recovery stories, but what all these stories share (in nearly every case) is increased home cooking, less processed, refined foods and fewer overdoses on blood-sugar boosting simple carbs.

Eliminating entire food groups should be a last resort... not a first.

If you are curious about going gluten free I suggest you read the book "Wheat Belly". While not a grand scale scientific study, this cardiologist has seen huge improvement over a range of issues with his patients who go gluten free. I haven't done so yet because the process is daunting but I am interested in finding out more. This article is misleading because there are plenty of ways going gluten free improves your health. The evidence is out there. I always mistrust doctors that make these blanket statements. Read the book and decide for yourself. Report
I also cut out gluten and processed foods and I'm working a "clean" diet. I have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia and IBS. My cravings for sweets, and bad carbs has decreased. I love whole grains, but when I eat them it feels like a very heavy, painful weight is lying in my stomach. I have not been diagnosed with Celiac disease, but I feel so much better when I don't eat gluten. I call it gluten sensitivity. Unlike you I am having a terrible time loosing weight. I loose 5 lbs. then go up 5lbs. It is a constant yo-yo. I'm still trying to figure this out. Report
I have not gone gluten free but since late last year I have not eaten much in the way of breads and such. It has made a huge difference. Like the article says, if you aren't eating processed food, perhaps you are eating more fruits, veggies and lean proteins instead....which definitely is healthier. Report
I have been on a gluten free diet since January. I decided to do this because I had read research that showed that gluten can cause issues with your autoimmune system, including the thyroid, and I have been diagnosed as hypothyroid. Prior to cutting out gluten completely, I had already eliminated most pre-processed foods, was eating whole grains and vegetables, and was avoiding the white starchy foods. Despite making healthier choices, watching my portions, and increasing my workouts, I did not lose weight.

The most immediate effect that I noticed when I cut out gluten was that I stopped waking up with headaches and sinus problems in the morning...that started to happen in the first week. Then in the 2nd week I realized I was no longer having food cravings...I wasn't feeling really hungry or deprived. My energy level has increased, my thyroid medication dose has decreased, and I've been able to work out more. I've lost an average of 2 pounds a week since January...so I'm down 60 pounds. My doctor agrees with me...even though I am not diagnosed with celiac disease that this was a good move for me. It may not be right for everyone...but for me it is working. Report
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