Photo by: Whatsername?

Photo by: Whatsername?

These days it seems like all we hear about is gluten-free foods. But is it an effective way to lose weight?

When you hear celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus boasting the health and weight loss benefits of a gluten-free diet, it becomes very tempting to try it yourself. But some experts say that people who don’t have gluten intolerance won’t necessarily benefit from going gluten free. And those who do suffer from celiac disease don’t necessarily look like Gwyneth and Miley. So is it really a safe alternative for people who aren’t suffering from the disease?

Celiac disease is an intolerance of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Studies say it affects less than 1% of Americans, but nearly 29% of adults are cutting back on gluten. Even restaurants like Dunkin Donuts are adding gluten-free products to their menus to keep up with the demand.

Although there are three million Americans suffering from celiac disease, 80% of Americans going gluten free don’t have the intolerance. And the fact that it’s growing as a weight loss trend instead of being recognized as a real medical condition means people don’t have all the details. “Despite the fact that it appears excluding gluten is to be credited [for weight loss and feeling better overall], people really benefit because they are cutting out processed foods, the most common source of gluten,” says Julieanna  Hever, Registered Dietitian and Host of healthy living talk show, “What Would Julieanna Do?” on Veria Living. “Everyone can lose weight and feel better if they omit processed foods like refined breads, cookies, cakes, and other junk foods.”

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Many people who eliminate gluten from their diet admit to feeling better, but it’s not the quick and easy fix it may seem like. Going gluten free is expensive—a loaf of bread can cost up to $12! It also causes you to cut out healthy foods containing fiber, iron and Vitamin B from your diet when you don’t have to.  In fact, certain gluten-free products can actually lead to weight gain. “Shopping for gluten-free labeled foods does not always mean a ‘healthy choice,’” says Registered and Licensed Dietician Megan Roosevelt. “Many gluten-free packaged and processed foods can be just as nutritionally empty or high in sugar, fat or calories as its gluten-filled counterparts.”

“There is no harm in going gluten free so long as you consume a wide variety of whole plant foods,” Hever says. “But it does make eating more limited for many people and is unnecessary for most. If you want to maximize your health, and keep weight down easily, eliminate or minimize processed foods.” Also remember to keep your diet rich in fruits, veggies, lean meats and other naturally gluten-free foods like quinoa, nuts and brown rice.

The gluten-free weight loss trend might just be another fad – it ranked number two on TIME’s top food trends list for 2012, but for real sufferers of the disease it’s a lifelong commitment that should be taken seriously.

Laura is the Special Projects Editor at Spa Week Daily.
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