Gluten-Free: Fat Burner or Fad Diet?


Is a new diet at the top of your New Year’s resolution list? While the New Year is a great time to adopt a healthier lifestyle, many programs promising to burn fat are merely fad diets. Gluten-free (GF) diets have been growing in popularity1, with $11.6 billion dollars spent on GF products in the United States in 20152. Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. The GF diet originated as a treatment for celiac disease (CD), an autoimmune disorder resulting in intestinal inflammation that affects approximately 1% of the US population3. Among those without CD, there is a growing notion that a GF diet is healthier. Approximately 25% of the US population reports consuming GF foods, with many believing that a GF diet is healthier1,2,4. However, avoiding gluten is not a prescription for weight loss. Those following a GF diet may lose weight simply because they are eliminating gluten-containing foods such as cookies, cakes, and snack foods. In this case, it is the avoidance of foods high in calories, fat, and sugar rather than the elimination of gluten that leads to weight loss. Without the guidance of a registered dietitian, a GF diet may actually be less healthy, as GF alternatives often contain more calories and fat and less vitamins and minerals5,6. Furthermore, avoidance of gluten can lead to nutritional deficiencies and inadequate intake of fiber-rich whole grains that can fend off hunger and facilitate weight loss6,7. Plus, expensive GF foods can be unhealthy for your wallet8,9!

While a GF diet is essential for those with CD and may improve gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in those with gluten sensitivities, it is not a weight loss diet. Due to a gluten sensitivity, I have adhered to a GF diet for 6 years; while my GI function has improved, I have not lost weight. Therefore, if consuming gluten leads to pain, bloating, or diarrhea, a GF diet may be healthier for your gut without changing the size of your waistline. For weight loss, focus instead on increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein while reducing saturated and trans fats and processed foods. Coupled with exercise, this lifestyle can be a sustainable New Year’s resolution that leads to weight loss without the struggles of restrictive fad diets.



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  2. Mintel Group, L. Half of Americans Think Gluten-Free Diets are a Fad While 25% Eat Gluten-Free Foods. [cited 2017 Februrary 1]; Available from:
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  6. Shepherd, S.J. and P.R. Gibson, Nutritional inadequacies of the gluten-free diet in both recently-diagnosed and long-term patients with coeliac disease. J Hum Nutr Diet, 2013. 26(4): p. 349-58.
  7. Slavin, J.L., Dietary fiber and body weight. Nutrition, 2005. 21(3): p. 411-8.
  8. Singh, J. and K. Whelan, Limited availability and higher cost of gluten-free foods. J Hum Nutr Diet, 2011. 24(5): p. 479-86.
  9. Burden, M., et al., Cost and availability of gluten-free food in the UK: in store and online. Postgrad Med J, 2015. 91(1081): p. 622-6