Is Gluten the Next Fat Free?

Everything from crackers to pizza to beer is now carrying a gluten-free label.

Kinda reminds me of the 80s (anyone out there old enough to remember them?) when every cake, cookie and piece of chocolate carried a no-fat label.

But is there something to the diet du jour of this new millennium?

Certainly the American public thinks so.

In fact, the NPD Group, a market information and advisory service, found in a recent poll that almost 30 percent of respondents said they wanted to cut back or avoid gluten.

I thought perhaps there was something to the trend. But the more I delved into the research, the more I realized, if you value your health and your skinny jeans, you just might NOT want to hop on that bandwagon. (More on that later.)

Why Go Gluten Free?

Gluten, which is found in everything from breads to marinades, and even in some vitamins, is a protein found in certain grains. It gives foods a thicker, chewy texture.

But devotees of the gluten-free lifestyle are saying that the stuff can make you sick. And by going gluten free, you can gain all sorts of health benefits.

Everything from improving cholesterol levels to promoting digestive health to losing weight to increasing energy levels…

And while it’s easy to get caught up in the gluten-free hysteria, the fact of the matter is that only a tiny portion of the American population cannot eat the stuff.

Yes, only about 1% of Americans actually has celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease that causes intolerance to gluten, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

That doesn’t come close to the NPD Group’s number of 30 percent trying to avoid gluten.

Which tells me that the majority of folks are just avoiding gluten because, well, the gluten-free marketing folks are just too good….

But not so good for your health

Whole Grain bread

Gluten-free does not necessarily equal healthy. That’s because whole grains that contain gluten are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

We have enough trouble getting enough fiber in our diets. The average daily intake in this country is about 16 grams… a far cry from the recommended 25 to 38 grams.1

On the flips side, gluten-free products are often made with refined grains, and are low in nutrients.

And it’s not just fiber these products are missing.

Very few gluten-free products are fortified and they’re often scant in vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and magnesium.

So the gluten-free fans are basically pulling nutrient-rich, whole grain foods from their diets and substituting them with gluten-free brownies.

Healthy? As if.

How Gluten-Free Makes You Gain

Good luck losing weight on a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free doesn’t mean fat-free or calorie-free.

In fact, without gluten to bind food together, food manufacturers often use more fat and sugar to make their products palatable.

So these sugary fat bombs are higher in calories than their regular counterparts. A gluten-free English muffin from Foods by George, for example, has 210 calories. Compare that to a good old Thomas’ Original English muffin at 120 calories.

Gluten-free may be tasty. But good for your waistline? No way.

It gets worse… To replace the wheat starch in packaged gluten-free foods, manufacturers use other starches that also have an even higher-glycemic index (which means they cause your blood sugar to rise rapidly).

These include cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch. These starches can just as easily spike your blood sugar.

What’s more, going gluten-free can put a serious damper on the variety of foods you can eat… sapping all the joy out of eating.

Breaking the Budget

One thing that will thin out when you go gluten-free? Your wallet.

Gluten-free foods, especially baked goods, are pricier because manufacturers have to come up with alternatives that will give the finished product the same firm, chewy texture that gluten imparts.

And this is big business.

Packaged Facts, a market research company, reported that the gluten-free market in the United States was up to $4.2 billion last year. And it predicts the category will balloon to over $6.6 billion by 2017. Holy gluten-free muffins, Batman!

Who Should Go Gluten-Free?

Of course, for those suffering from celiac disease, avoiding gluten is pretty much a no-brainer.

Eating even the tiniest amount damages the lining of the small intestine… This can lead to symptoms ranging from diarrhea to skin rashes to depression. And over the long term can lead to nutrient deficiencies and even intestinal cancer.

And some people have a condition called “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” where they experience similar symptoms to those with celiac disease but not the intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease. They should avoid gluten as well.

Even for these folks who MUST avoid gluten to stay healthy, the over-processed, gluten-free packaged foods that are filling store shelves are decidedly NOT a good thing.

All those empty calories with no nutritional value do little to nourish the body… and may lead to excess weight gain.

But before you go gluten-free

Get tested. If you suspect you truly have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, go to your family doctor or a gastroenterologist for an evaluation.

The test involves a simple blood test that can detect certain antibodies that are higher than normal. Your doctor may also want to do an endoscopy and biopsy of the small intestine.

If you don’t fall into one of those groups, save your money – and your health. Gluten is not the enemy. The real villain here is overprocessed foods with excess sugar, added fats and no nutritional value… Gluten or not.

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.

I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!

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1. King DE, Mainous AG 3rd, Lambourne CA. Trends in dietary fiber intake in the United States, 1999-2008. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(5):642-648. PMID: 22709768.

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  1. I went gluten-free because I was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis in my lower back. I think it is worth a try. I agree you have to be careful with gluten-free produce as it’s often loaded with sugar and all sorts of starches. I am trying to eat lots of vegetables and fruit. My arthritis is definitely a lot better since going gluten-free but this could also be due to the traditional acupuncture I am having and daily swim.

    • Well Done Wendy for taking control of your health.
      Have a look at ‘The Nightshade Family of Vegetables ‘
      I feel so much better without them, especially where arthritis is concerned.

  2. Hello doc,ive gone glutenfree dairyfree nutfree on advice of my doctor,after he tested me.
    also i dont eat eat fruit besides appels,no potatoes.i presume not all is forever,only until my intestines are healed.
    My question is,after having tried a lot of differnt kinds of breads and milks,ive decided that i like ricemilk best.but also make my own bread with a combination of flours and i eat ricecakes,i dontwant to have soya.
    Is it unhealthy to have too many riceproducts? Because of the arsenic?and the sugarspikes?
    Thank you in advance.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Zipora,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! To answer your question, yes, you can absolutely over indulge in too many rice products and cause sugar spikes. I recommend that you stick to portion control, half a cup of grains or its equivalent per day and then supplement the rest of your diet with fiber rich vegetables. I suggest sweet potatoes as they are denser and healthier than potatoes. If you are able to tolerate them, they can add variety to your diet. About Arsenic, I am unable to comment on that as rice is a staple for many countries and production is up to industry standards. You may want to check with your grocer about their rice products. Make it a healthy day!

  3. I have a persistant cough. My doctor told me to not eat anything dairy. So I did.
    But I am still coughing. There is always clear mucus in the throat. Can somebody help me.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Elsie,

      Thank you for posting! It could be an allergic reaction to something in your environment or food. You may want to visit your doctor and get his thoughts. Make it a healthy day!

  4. Am so confused!

    Am going back to making my own yogurt (which would you recommend Goat or Cow?) whole 2% 3.5% or 4%?

    Bread whole grain?

    Simply no wheat, no low-fat, no sugar?

    Fruits.. Veggies..(frozen or fresh?)

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Sara,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! Goat’s milk is a great option in place of cow’s milk. Whole grain bread over white bread. And, depending on the use, you can have low fat dairy. As for fruits and veggies, fresh is always better. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  5. The human body was never meant to eat grain. We started out foragers with berries, roots, nuts, fruit and meat. Our gut is affected by all the processed everything and yes most contains GMO wheat, GMO corn and wheat. We should eat whole organically grown (not sprayed with glyphosphate or pesticides), basically grow your own or know your local farmer! Nuts, seeds, good fat like avacadoes, coconut and nut oils. Grass fed animals for meat and dairy. Basically, gluten is not good for anyone sir.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with Sandy’s comments above. There’s a lot to be said for home made meals, they don’t need to be complicated, they just need to be nutritious, and in turn satisfying, once you start to eat like this there’s no turning back. In fact the body will crave it. It’s a very satisfying way to live. Also there has to be a ‘movement’ for people to stop with the convenience sauces/dressings! Olive oil and
    cider vinegar (or lemon juice) is delicious/
    nutritious and super easy!!! Prepared dressings
    are full of sugar/salt. I’ve never bought them.

  7. Hi. I was diagnosed with food sensitivities from a blood test. Wheat, wheat gluten, dairy , eggs and a few fruits and veggies. I did all except the eggs. Never felt a difference. Yet my wellness doctor Believes my eczema will clear up. It did not. So I am starting to eat some healthy whole grain/ low carb bread. Any suggestions for eczema and foods?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Sue,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! It is good that you have taken a skin test to know of your sensitivities and do hope you kept a record of them. Knowing that you are allergic to a number of food products which range from bread to eggs, I am deeply sorry but do defer to the wisdom of your doctor. However, what I can suggest is that you not only take note of your food intake but also observe the weather. Sometimes, our eczema can triggered by dust or particles in the environment and not necessarily by what we ingest. You can also check your detergent and see if they cause a reaction. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  8. I have a wheat allergy. Wheat is in EVERYTHING. I’ve also recently read what farmers were treating wheat with. Now I’m wondering if this chemical caused my allergy. I’ve decided to go the Einkorn route for my flour. I do some gluten free (no wheat) products, but I prefer to make my own breads and waffles. It’s a bit of a change, but well worth it

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Christine,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us! I hope it reaches others who have the same sensitivities and give Einkorn Flour a chance. Have a healthy day!

  9. Dear Doc Steve, What if one just sticks to healthier grains such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat groats and so on? Because in the W heatbelly book the author suggests it’s the fact that we have has undergone so many changes over the past century. And what about GMO free corn?

    Thanks, JH

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Jodi,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! Yes to the grains you mentioned. They are all healthy substitutes but I do still encourage you to watch your portions. We recommend one 1/2 cup serving of whole non processed grains daily preferably early in the day. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

  10. I was blood tested for gluten, yeast, wheat, the list goes on, and I was sensitive to all of these. So I tried cutting many delicious food groups out of my diet. Turns out I felt worse than when I ate these ingred.
    Brain fog, headaches, migraine, cranky! So with that said I think it was the high content of sugar and and tapioca floor, rice flour, etc. was making me sicker!
    I think it’s the Sugar that really is the culprit!
    So with that said, I’m happy to be eating normal delicious good breads, home pasta etc. within reason. There’s other foods out there that can give the same awful systems as gluten. Everyone is a little different from the next guy.
    Oh well, that’s part of my story, but I now run from gluten!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your experience! I agree, every one is a little different from the next guy and am glad you had your food sensitivities figured out before they turned into something more serious. Again, thank you for sharing and make it a healthy day!

  11. You avoid the drawbacks of the gluten-free diet, by 1 NOT eating any packaged “gluten free” products; make your own from scratch. 2 Eat lots and lots of vegetables and fruits. That’s where you get a lot of fiber, so gluten-free doesn’t really mean fiber-free. Additionally, if it’s not shaped like real food, if it’s in a box, which is not shaped like real food, don’t buy it. Buy real food. Plus, a diet high in vegetables will provide all the vitamins and minerals you need.
    I live on a gluten-free diet as I have Celiac’s disease and I do not have any nutritional deficiencies. My doctor says I’m the healthiest 72 year old he knows. Learn how to feed yourself good nutrition and stay away from processed foods of all kinds. That includes processed meats. Note: the people of India are primarily vegetarians, but you don’t see them with nutritional deficiencies. Why is that? They know how to eat properly.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Sandy,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I completely agree with you there! A well balanced diet, based from fresh whole foods will not leave you nutritionally deprived. Many often believe that gluten free is equal to healthy but I always recommend that you take a closer look at the label to know for sure. I am glad you have taken the time to share your thoughts with us and I do hope to hear from you again. Make it a healthy day, Sandy!

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