When looking to lose weight, one of the first things people do is look for something to cut out. It used to be fat, then carbs, then sugar. It’s sort of back to carbs again and gluten is one of the things that has come up as the catalyst of all inflammation and weight problems in the world. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but how many of us even know what gluten is? Or what it’s purpose is? Let’s jump in and find out whether gluten really is the devil it’s been made out to be.
Gluten is a protein. You will find it in a lot of grain foods (think breads, pasta, pizza, etc.) and its job is to give dough that wonderfully chewy quality through the chemical bonds it creates during baking. The reason most gluten free breads are more like flaky crackers is because of this–they lack the protein needed to create chewy, delicious bonds.
So why wouldn’t you eat gluten? For some people (namely those with celiac disease), eating gluten can have pretty disastrous health consequences. People who suffer from celiac have an immune response to gluten–their body treats it the same way it would treat a virus. It attacks the gluten, damaging the small intestine in the process. The only way to avoid this reaction when you have celiac is to avoid gluten entirely.
For others, gluten may cause some intestinal distress like bloating or cramps, but without the totally dire consequences that come with celiac disease. They can still eat gluten without worrying about the intestinal damage, but should probably also avoid it for the sake of health and avoiding feeling gross all the time. Often this intolerance/sensitivity is found in people with other autoimmune issues such as hypothyroidism (something that I have found to be true for myself).
Most people don’t have these issues and can eat gluten all they want without any adverse health effects. So why do people who have cut out gluten who don’t have a health reason for it often profess to losing weight and feeling better? It’s usually one of these two reasons:
- Cutting out gluten usually means cutting out processed foods. Think about–if you suddenly stopped eating bread, cookies, pizza, etc. you’d probably end up losing weight. That isn’t because of the gluten, this just means you’re unintentionally eating a lower calorie diet and weight loss is imminent.
- Cutting out gluten can have a placebo effect. If you expect it to make you feel better, it probably will.
Ultimately, gluten is neither good nor bad for the general population. It doesn’t provide any real health benefits, unless you count the mental benefit of eating a fresh donut, but it also doesn’t hold any health detriments on its own. If you are looking to lose weight, I would recommend focusing more on eating lots of nutrient dense fruits, veggies, and lean protein without worrying about whether or not your oatmeal is certified gluten free.