This is a question I get asked ALL. THE. TIME. Before I get to the answer about weight loss, I want to go over a couple of things about what it means to follow a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and products containing these foods (including soy sauce, certain deli meats, and many packaged snacks) so going gluten free means removing these foods from your menu. In addition to weight loss, people may consider going gluten free because of inflammatory conditions, auto-immune conditions, and gluten insensitivity, which may produce symptoms such as bloating, headaches, extreme fatigue, and joint pain. Of course, people with celiac disease must follow a strict gluten free diet.
If your goal is to lose weight and you are currently eating a variety of foods and feeling well after you eat (meaning, no severe bloating, skin or joint inflammation, headaches, extreme fatigue or other potential signs of an insensitivity), it may not be necessary to eliminate gluten from your menu. Going gluten free alone won’t prompt weight loss unless you’re replacing less healthy items with healthier, gluten free whole foods, such as fruits, veggies, and beans.
It’s also important to note that some gluten free foods (mainly snack and processed fare) might have more refined starches and less fiber, and this combination not only doesn’t promote weight loss but may promote weight gain. One study compared people who ate equal-calorie meals, with one containing whole foods and the other containing processed foods. Those eating the whole foods meal (which included multi-grain bread, by the way), experienced a small but meaningful post-meal metabolic boost. Another study found that it doesn’t matter how you approach weight loss as long as you're cutting back on added sugars and other processed fare. The common thread among people who lose weight is eating more veggies and other whole foods. So whether or not you’re going gluten free, if your goal is to lose or maintain your weight, including more whole foods and fewer processed foods is a change worth making.
If you’re frequently experiencing symptoms that suggest you may have a gluten insensitivity, or if you have an auto-immune disease or a condition that causes body-wide inflammation, a gluten free diet may make sense for you. However, elimination diets can be tricky and are best undertaken with a dietitian. I have personally tried elimination diets and I’ve managed my son’s elimination diet so I know first-hand how complicated they can be. It’s also worth noting that even if you suspect a gluten sensitivity, there may be other foods triggering your symptoms. Studies have found that the carbohydrate in wheat-based products may trigger GI issues (recall that gluten is a protein), and since both gluten and these carbohydrates are found in many overlapping products, even if you’re feeling better on a gluten free plan, it could be even more beneficial to follow another type of elimination diet.