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Is gluten free the next weight loss fad diet?


With increasing regularity folks are asking if they should start the “new” gluten free diet to lose weight. They’re serious. Too often eating plans designed to combat specific diseases become money making marketing machines in the form of weight loss fad diet products, usually with poor long term results.

cindy_swan_veggies Many people now see the gluten free labels in the health food section of the grocery store, the thin people reaching for them, and well, you see the fore drawn conclusion. What they don’t realize is that the thin person may have celiac disease or other autoimmune disorder, and he or she actually weighs a healthy 20 pounds more since starting a gluten free diet, putting an end to malabsorption problems. Conversely, some people do lose weight eating gluten free, not because they are using the lifestyle as a specific weight loss program, but because addressing their underlying disease resulted in improved body composition.

In the later case, weight loss may be a side benefit of removing the offending food, thus allowing the body time to heal and absorb nutrients normally. However, a gluten free lifestyle is not intended to be the next fad weight loss program. Consider two other dieting trends over the past two decades:

The fat free diet
The arrival of the 1990s brought with it an increased awareness of the role excessive amounts of fat, particularly saturated fat, can have on cardiovascular health, specifically cholesterol levels. Soon, the whole food industry had jumped on board offering fat free foods, often high in calories, low in nutrition, and high in simple sugars and processed carbohydrates. Everyone was counseled to eat fat free to lose weight. What happened? A decade later the United States was at least 30 percent fatter.

The no sugar, no carbs diet
The no sugar and low simple carbohydrate diet once associated with diabetes or related insulin problems suddenly rose to popularity in the form of a weight loss regime. While I agree wholeheartedly that simple sugar and low nutrient carbs should be replaced with nutrient dense alternatives, the eat-any-kind-of-animal-saturated-fat-laden-protein- that-you-want-diet, while imposing severe limitations on antioxidant and fiber rich legumes, whole fruits, and vegetables, and little to no emphasis on healthy omega 3 fats, is a sure fire way to disaster. In addition, the increased use of man-made sweeteners has brought concerns of toxicity and safety, along with a tendency to cause the brain to crave more, not fewer, sweet foods.

The almost guaranteed weight loss on the high protein, no carbs diet has only resulted in a return of unhealthy weight once the diet is stopped. According to the Billings Clinic, today 65 percent of the US population is sliding straight into the obese category, increasing risk of cardiovascular disease, adult onset type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and stroke.

The current concern over the gluten free trend among food manufacturers is the array of prepackaged, processed, low fiber, high sugar, and low nutrient gluten free bakery products and breads hitting the shelves. These not only spell disaster for gluten intolerant folks that require maximum nutrition to replenish stores lost due to malabsorption problems, but are likely to lead to the same result as the fat free craze – more weight gain and its related chronic diseases. White rice, cane sugar, and corn starch may be safe to eat for folks with gluten intolerance, but eating safe foods and maximizing nutrition are two different matters.

Choose gluten free foods that are naturally gluten free

Make the produce department at the grocery store and Billing’s soon to arrive farmers’ markets, a first stop. Fresh whole fruits, vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and legumes are naturally gluten free, high in fiber, protein, and nutrients that should comprise the bulk of a lifelong eating plan.

For those that can tolerate dairy, choose unsweetened yogurts, white soft cheeses, and organic hormone free eggs. Concentrated protein sources can be derived from hormone free lean poultry, lamb, non GMO tofu, wild caught, cold water fish, and lean cuts of hormone free beef. Beneficial fats can be found in olives, avocados, flax seed, unsweetened nut butters, and expeller cold pressed olive and grape seed oils. Naturally gluten free grains and flours that are high in protein and fiber include quinoa, teff, sorghum, brown and wild rice, millet, bean flours, nut flours, buckwheat, and *oats (controversial on their gluten free status, due to cross contamination, but great for those who can tolerate them).

When shopping think “ingredients” rather than prepackaged foods. This is a way of healthy eating that will benefit anyone wanting to lose weight, not simply because the food is gluten free, but because it includes all of the colors of the rainbow from whole foods, which will support a healthy immune system and metabolism over the long term. Eating meals made with the above fresh whole ingredients also allows for endless recipe variations that will be tasty to everyone in the family, regardless of their gluten tolerance or intolerance.

Try making these dishes at home:

Turkey or vegan chili with lean ground organic turkey or cubed organic tofu, black beans, pinto beans, chopped onion, mild green chili, your favorite chili seasonings, and unsweetened organic tomato sauce.

Pan roasted veggies, including sweet potato wedges, small halved onions, red pepper wedges, zucchini, peeled garlic cloves, and carrots drizzled with olive oil, sea salt, and a touch of Cajun seasoning. Serve with grilled wild salmon, halibut, or lamb chops.

Lettuce wraps. All of the fixings of a grilled chicken or tuna salad sandwich but wrapped in a large lettuce leaf instead of between slices of bread.

Hot buckwheat cereal. Cook like oatmeal using almond milk, and sweeten with fresh Montana huckleberries, a little agave nectar, and sprinkle with your favorite nuts or seeds for a hearty breakfast.

Perfect snack. Cut an apple in half and core each side. Fill each half with a tablespoon of favorite raw nut butter…one favorite is almond butter, but for variety try cashew, peanut, macadamia, or organic soy nut butters.

Author Information: Cindy Swan
Cindy Swan, Lifestyle Coach,
Billings GF Reporter for
Twitter: WellHealth

About Cindy Swan

Cindy Swan has over 13 years experience in health, fitness, nutrition, and chronic disease prevention and management. She is gluten intolerant herself and coaches clients with celiac disease and autoimmune disorders through the process of gluten free living. E-mail:
  • Keira James says:

    Exercise and strict dieting can do magic if you are trying to lose weight. I did a lot of cardio just to lose weight.`”‘

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