The Six Health Myths of Gluten-Free Diets (Part 1)

There’s a lot of discussion recently regarding the benefits of a gluten-free diet. As we’ve discussed before, approximately 1% of the population is celiac, which means they must avoid all gluten in their diet. On top of that is another 6-7% of people (20 million in the US) who are gluten intolerant, which also means they can’t eat gluten, though this condition is less understood. But according to recent studies, as many as 29% of people are on or considering a gluten-free diet. So why the extra 20%? Why are they going gluten-free? Is there a benefit?

This has to do with many of the supposed benefits of a gluten-free diet for those who are not celiac or gluten-intolerant, which has gotten a lot of attention in the media recently. Gluten-free diets have been touted as being a great way to lose weight, feel better, and increase athletic performance.

But is this all true?

Well, sort of. First let us say that they’re still a lot science still doesn’t understand about gluten, celiac disease, and gluten intolerance, and if you think you might have an issue with gluten, we highly recommend talking to your doctor.

Ok, now let’s dive in and take a look at what we’re calling gluten-free health myths:

Myth #1: A gluten-free diet is a choice (or a fad): As we discussed above, if someone is celiac or gluten-intolerant, they must maintain a gluten-free diet or risk serious short-term and long-term health effects. It’s not a choice. The only way to avoid very negative symptoms is to maintain a 100% gluten-free diet, and unless this changes (a drug or treatment comes on to the market), this will remain true. But for the other 20%, it might be a fad, might not be–we’ll talk more about this in a bit.

Myth #2: Gluten-free is the same as low carb: This is not at all the case, and something many people get confused about. Yes, one way to go gluten-free is to cut out things like pasta, breads, pizza, beer, etc, which usually contain gluten. But another way is to simply substitute these with gluten-free alternatives, like foods made from rice, millet, buckwheat, and other gluten-free ingredients. And yes, if you cut out all carbs from your diet, you would likely cut out most gluten (but not necessarily all–think of hidden gluten). So, these are two different diets, with two very different purposes.

Myth #3: A gluten-free diet will help you lose weight: This is related to Myth #2, as many low carb diets are meant to help you lose weight, so if you confuse low-carb with gluten-free, you might think it’s related to weight loss. But gluten does not make you fat. And, as we said above, you can eat just as many carbs (and, more importantly, just and many total calories) on a gluten-free diet. And this could also swing the other way. Gluten is used to make food soft and chewy, so when manufacturers remove gluten, they often replace it with fat or butter to maintain the desirable properties. That means you could potentially eat more calories and end up gaining weight on a gluten-free diet.

We’ll close out myths 4-6 in our post later this week. Stay tuned!