The Truth About Going Gluten-Free

Celebs like Miley Cyrus and Gwyneth Paltrow praise the gluten-free diet, but how "healthy" is the fad?

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It seems like diet fads these days change quicker than fashion trends on the runway, and the gluten-free diet is no exception. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus are praising this way of eating, and Cyrus attributes her recent weight-loss to cutting gluten from her diet. She says that she has an allergy. “It’s about health. Gluten is crappp (sic) anyway!” Cyrus tweeted back in April. “Everyone should try no gluten for a week. The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing.”

Thousands of Americans without a gluten intolerance or allergy are practicing a gluten-free diet. According to a CNN article, only about one percent of Americans have what’s known as Celiac disease, which indicates an allergy to the protein gluten. Yet according to CBS news, marketers are saying 15 to 25 percent of consumers are buying gluten-free products. Gluten-free meals are becoming more accessible when dining out as well. Local restaurants are creating separate gluten-free menus and even campus dining halls at universities are offering gluten-free options.

Professionals have doubts about whether going gluten-free is healthy. Dr. Daniel A. Leffler, clinical research director at Beth Israel’s Celiac Center says, “Gluten is a tough protein to digest, and some may just be intolerant, similar to a lactose-intolerance. Some don’t feel great when they eat a bagel. It’s symptomatic.” But, Leffler says, it’s important to acknowledge that gluten-free products are missing necessary daily nutrients. “If you’re not careful, a gluten-free diet can actually be less healthy. The majority of a person’s every day fiber comes from wheat and whole grains.”

Leffler says that the average Celiac patient actually gains weight, sometimes up to 20 to 30 pounds. So what’s the deal with Miley’s crazy weight-loss? Linda Antinoro, dietician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital says that results will vary from person to person. “A gluten-free diet is eating fruits, vegetables, and lean meat.” A weight gain usually results, Antinoro says, “… when incorporating more processed and junk food.”

Gluten-free pasta and cookies, for example, can have more calories, fat, and sodium in them in order to make up for the flavor that wheat and flour lends to more traditional products. Leffler says that regular exercise is a key factor, much like any form of weight-management. Those sculpted arms and toned abs that Miley loves to flaunt? She can thank her hour-long Pilates class that she attends six days a week.

“A change as major as cutting out gluten should not be taken lightly,” says Leffler. “The important question is what are you trying to fix? Irritable bowel syndrome or a sensitive stomach is a good reason to give it a try. If everything is fine, than you probably won’t see results.”

Antinoro says that going gluten-free won’t necessarily make you lose any weight. “You don’t need gluten to survive,” Antinoro says. “But like any diet there is a long-lasting question for weight-management. Can you sustain it? It may not be practical for everyone. It’s a lifestyle change.”

Have you tried going gluten-free? Tell us about your experience in the comments.