PEOPLE choose to follow a gluten-free diet for many reasons. Front and centre is coeliac disease. This is an auto-immune disease whereby the lining of the small intestine is attacked when gluten is eaten.
This is bad as it prevents a person from being able to absorb nutrients and results in gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhoea and bloating. It can be diagnosed by a blood test but needs to be confirmed by an endoscopy (where the inside of your intestine is examined with a camera). Once a person stops eating gluten, the intestine will heal.
But it only affects less than one per cent of the population. So why are so many people following a gluten-free diet? Current data around the globe suggests that 10-30 per cent of the population avoid gluten.
There are many people that don't have the disease but complain of gastrointestinal side effects following the ingestion of gluten (gluten intolerance). However, recent research suggests that this might be due to the perception of gluten intake rather than gluten intake itself. In this research, despite what foods (gluten-free, low gluten or high gluten) people were allocated they saw an improvement in their symptoms that they commonly experienced.
There are lots of other reasons why people choose to avoid gluten.
Nowadays it's certainly the topic of conversation when it comes to weight loss and has evolved into a common scapegoat for our weight problems. But is it really to blame for our ever increasing waistlines? Is kicking the gluten this New Year's resolution really going to beat the bulge?
Will you lose weight?
Simply put, if you cut gluten you will lose weight. This is because a lot of food that contains gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) is processed and not good for you. Specifically, what I am referring to here is white, refined carbohydrate foods that offer very little nutrition and lots of calories - croissants, bakery goods, ice-creams, snack bars, biscuits, to name just a few. After all, these are not foods that should make up the basis of your daily food intake.
However, eliminating all carbs, including wholegrain sources, is not a good idea and it comes at a significant health cost. The avoidance of carbs is detrimental to one's health. Wholegrains actually help with weight loss and prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer. But, it's all too common that we get excited when we see the number go down on the scales after eliminating carbohydrate food sources from our plate, and consequently attribute it as the cause of our problems.
Despite what you may be led to believe this is not, however, due to a decrease in fat mass but instead the result of a decrease in body water content. Carbs bind water and water weighs a lot!
The gluten-free market
Perhaps the greater problem lies in the gluten-free market. There has been an evident shift in our eating culture and a greater adoption of fads such as a "clean eating" and "clean living" lifestyle.
Those that switch to, and rely on gluten-free substitutes often end up eating more calories, as gluten-free products are higher in energy (and preservatives) than their gluten-containing equivalents (not to mention the increased cost they carry). Despite this movement to a gluten-free diet as part of a "clean eating" lifestyle, research has clearly proven that gluten on its own will not make a person fat.
Dr Nick Fuller is the author of Interval Weight Loss, which is a scientifically proven way of redefining the weight your body wants to be, to ensure you lose it and keep it off. For more information go to Interval Weight Loss.