“There is a desire among Americans to search for some sort of magic bullet that’s going to solve a lot of their health problems,” says Glenn Gaesser, PhD, author of the research and director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University. “But we couldn’t find a single study published that supports a weight loss claim for a gluten-free diet.”
According to Gaesser, there are only three reasons anyone should go on a gluten-free diet:
2. If you have celiac disease (CD), or an autoimmune disorder affecting about 1% of the population.
3. If you have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), or a condition characterized by symptoms like gas bloating, fatigue, and headaches after eating gluten-containing products. There’s still no hard test for NCGS (unlike wheat allergy and CD, which can be detected using blood tests), so the diagnosis is subjective. It’s still unclear how much of the population might be affected by NCGS.
And if you don’t fall into these three categories? There’s absolutely no reason to give up gluten.
True, shunning carbohydrate-heavy, oft-overprocessed products thatcontain gluten, like bread, pasta, and cereal, could help you lose weight. That’s because they are a major source of calories and sugar in the typical American diet, Gaesser explains, and they’re also typically low in hunger-fighting fiber, protein, and other nutrients. But simply swapping them for gluten-free versions won’t do you any good: Gluten-free products usually contain just as many or more calories and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts and don’t offer any more nutrition.
Plus, early research shows that gluten may have unique health benefits of its own: In two separate studies, the wheat protein has been shown to lower triglycerides, a type of “bad” cholesterol, by up to 19%. And in another study, eliminating gluten reduced participants’ numbers of beneficial gut bacteria.
What should you do if you think you have trouble digesting gluten? Gaesser says to bypass your primary care physician and instead seek out a registered dietitian who specializes in these conditions. The best place to start is with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They have a database of RDs you can search by zip code and specialty.