Gluten-free is Not Always the Way to Be

Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus are two of the latest celebrities to tout the gluten-free diet as the way to go when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, following in the footsteps of the likes of Victoria Beckham, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Gwyneth Paltrow.

As the popularity of the diet — which is used to control celiac disease and can be helpful to those who have a gluten sensitivity — increases, food manufacturers and restaurants are turning out more gluten-free products. But is the diet really necessary to lose weight and be health-conscious?

“It depends what you mean by a ‘gluten-free diet,’” said Marilyn Geller, Chief Operating Officer of the Celiac Disease Foundation.

“If you give up bread and pasta, tortillas and pizza crust and concentrate on a diet that’s more about protein, fruits and vegetables, you’re going to lose weight,” she continued. “But if you truly just substitute gluten-free products for regular things, you can actually gain weight.”

Dee Sandquist, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), agreed that the gluten-free diet, which includes staying away from items made with wheat, rye and barley, is not a “magic bullet” for weight loss.

“What’s important with weight loss is the level of physical activities to balance calories consumed,” Ms. Sandquist said. “This is related to activity level and food intake, not gluten.”

She added that when people go gluten-free, the quality of their diet often increases, as they eat fewer sweet treats like cookies and cake and focus more on whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat and quinoa.

But like Ms. Geller, she warns consumers about buying into the hype of the various products on the market.

“If you eat, say, a dinner roll that’s gluten-free and a dinner roll that has gluten, the chances are the gluten-free version will have more fat,” Ms. Sandquist said. “In general, gluten-free baked products have more fat and less fiber.”

She encourages those who follow the diet to eat more fiber-rich foods and make sure they’re getting enough B vitamins and iron, which also often are lacking in gluten-free foods.

“You really need to make wise food decisions,” Ms. Sandquist said. “Variety is very important so you can maximize your nutrition.”