Friday, November 18, 2011

Ask the RD: Gluten Free Diets & Weight Loss

Hi everyone!  Your probably reading this blog for one of the following few like it (I hope so!), you know me, you/someone in your family follows a gluten-free diet or you're curious about a gluten free diet.  Awhile back, I had a comment in one of my postings about whether a gluten free diet would help someone lose weight - what an awesome topic for a post - so let's dive in.

Do you need to follow a gluten free diet to lose weight?  The answer to that question is no, you do not need to follow a gluten free diet to lose weight - unless of course you have Celiac Disease (CD).  If you aren't familiar with CD, people that have it follow a gluten free diet for the rest of their life because consuming gluten is damaging to their intestines.  Will a gluten free diet help you lose weight?  The answer to that question is..... maybe.

So, let's talk for a second about why a gluten free diet might help you lose weight.  Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats (oats themselves are gluten free but they are often contaminated).  When you remove gluten from your diet, you also, by default, remove all sources of processed garbage food.  You say adios to any fried foods since they're breaded - you say adios to french fries since they're fried in the same oil unless you want to risk it which I *might* occasionally do.  You won't be able to eat brownies when someone brings them into work.  When you eat at most restaurants, you're forced to be a healthy eater - your menu is normally limited to salads, grilled chicken/fish and vegetables.  You can say goodbye to your favorite tempura sushi roll - I'm still mourning that loss btw.  Any foods that you miss, well you're forced to recreate gluten free versions yourself, which helps broaden your cooking skills.  You welcome into your life the healthy grains that you can have.... gluten free oats (look for ELISA tested), brown rice, quinoa pasta - all rich in fiber and nutritional value.  You can increase your intake of fruits and vegetables to keep yourself full.  You start eating more flaxseed as a way to get more fiber into your diet.  So now you're probably thinking that a gluten free diet sounds like a great way to shed a few pounds... well....

Now, let's talk for a second about how a gluten free diet could make you gain weight.  Remember how in the previous paragraph I said going gluten free forces you to remove processed garbage food from your diet?  Well, what I'm going to say here is that they make gluten free versions of all those processed foods..... gluten free cookies, gluten free brownies, gluten free candy....  They also make gluten free bread and gluten free pasta - but the problem is 9 out of 10 times they aren't made with whole grains, they're made with white rice flour, corn flour or some other kind of low fiber flour.  Also, gluten free processed foods are notoriously higher in fat and calories than the foods they replace.  I could buy a whole wheat english muffin and it would probably be around 100-120 calories, but a gluten free english muffin of the same size is going to be around 200+ calories.  If by going gluten free, you just swap out one for the other, you'll probably gain weight.

Also, it's important to take into consideration that over the long term a gluten free diet can be low in B12, folate, niacin, iron, calcium, phosphorus and zinc.  The reason for this is the fortification of most wheat flours - so you're removing those things from your diet.  Not to mention, you have to be pretty cognizant of your fiber content each day to make sure you're getting enough.  Gluten free diets can occasionally leave you feeling deprived I hate to say it but it's true and if you're not someone who truly needs one, I'm sure there are a million people that do that wish they could be in your shoes.

So, if you're looking to lose weight and you don't medically need a gluten free diet, what's a better option?  First, throw out all of the processed garbage food in your home.  Replace those products with 100% whole wheat products.  If you don't like the taste of whole wheat pasta, try quinoa pasta instead.  Start eating oatmeal for breakfast and I don't mean the prepackaged kind, I mean the quick oats in a can.  Top it with 1tbsp dried fruit/nuts and ground flaxseed.  Increase your fruit and vegetable intake, the easiest way is start out with the ones that you like and branch out to similar ones - aim for at least 5 servings per day- about 2.5-3 baseballs.  Use the internet to find alternate methods of preparation - I love roasted vegetables. Stop buying artificially flavored foods and drinks - you wouldn't fill your car's gas tank with water would you?  Add your own fruit to plain yogurt.  If you skip meals, STOP and your metabolism will thank you - try to eat every 3-4 hours before you become ravenous.  Focus on whether or not you are truly hungry.  If you aren't hungry for breakfast, then stop eating earlier at night.  At restaurants, don't order fried food and choose things that are grilled with vegetables sides - better yet, cook your own food and pack a lunch.  If you don't know how to cook, research cookbooks for beginner cooks and order it from the library - remember, everyone had to start somewhere.  Finally, exercise is key.  You don't have to be crazy.  The National Weight Control Registry keeps track of the habits of people who have kept >30 lbs off for >1 year and the most common exercise is walking for an hour.  Finally, remember the most important key is taking care of yourself.  You only get one body, so take care of it :)

Did you lose or gain weight when you became gluten free?
Any future topics you want to see on "Ask the RD"?