Gluten - Good or Bad
2nd Oct 2020
Over perhaps the last decade, maybe longer, gluten has received a really bad rep and celebrities such as Gwyneth "I talk a lot of absolute nonsense" Paltrow have been partly responsible for the explosion in gluten free food options on the shelves.
But is there actually any benefit to removing gluten from your diet, in particular from a health or fat loss perspective?
The science would say 𝐍𝐎𝐓...unless of course you are one of the unfortunate but relatively small number of people who suffer with the serious autoimmune disorder, coeliac disease (estimated to be 1 in 100 in the UK, although it’s estimated that there are half a million people who have it but don’t know it and could be struggling with symptoms). For these individuals, the removal of gluten from the diet is absolutely essential due to the way that the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues when gluten is consumed. In turn, this leads to the gut lining being damaged and means that the body can’t properly absorb nutrients food. For more information on Coeliac disease I’d recommend visiting the Coeliac UK website (www.coeliac.org.uk).
The myth that the media have spread about how gluten may be causing you health issues or stopping you from losing weight stems from self-proclaimed “gurus” such as W. Davis, author of the book ‘Wheat Belly’ (you'll find it in the fiction section at Waterstones!) claiming things like "the wheat of today is nothing like the wheat of 1960". He makes such claims based on no real evidence, but makes them in a way that has the reader lapping them up and believing everything before their eyes much like many of the Netflix nutrition “documentaries” we see today, and attributing their weight or digestive system struggles on gluten.
We also often hear anecdotes from people who have improved their health (e.g. improved gut symptoms) or lost weight when they've removed gluten-containing foods from their diet. However, when you look into this further, studies carried out with self-diagnosed gluten sensitive patients have shown NO impact from removing gluten from their diet, and that it was actually the removal of FODMAPs that improved their symptoms!
FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides) are a group of fermentable carbohydrates, and have been shown to cause common digestive problems such as stomach pain, wind, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea in people who are sensitive to them; in particular, those who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). FODMAPs are found in a whole host of foods such as anything made with wheat, barley or rye, apples, beans, cauliflower, beans and dried fruits amongst others.
Another major factor to account for here is the Law of Thermodynamics, which explains weight loss via our good old friend the ‘energy balance’ equation. In essence, being in a calorie deficit (consuming less calories than the body expends) will result in weight loss, and vice versa. This is simply irrefutable.
Let’s look at it like this. Many junk foods contain gluten; remove these from your diet and overall energy intake decreases, which now means that you're in a calorie deficit…which in turn results in weight loss! It’s therefore completely unsurprising that the removal of gluten-containing foods often results in weight loss for people, and yet it has absolutely nothing to do with the removal of the gluten specifically.
So yes, in summary, removing gluten-containing foods from your diet may help to improve health and impact fat loss, but it actually has 𝐍𝐎𝐓𝐇𝐈𝐍𝐆 at all to do with the gluten and much more to do with putting yourself into a calorie deficit and/or reducing your intake of FODMAPs.