Myth Buster: Gluten-free diets are healthier

By Charlotte Foster BSc (Hons), MSc, RD.

How many people do you know believe gluten is toxic and should be eliminated from the diet of all human beings? For a while, being gluten-free was very “in vogue” before being vegan ousted it as the latest dietary trend! Interestingly, on a vegan diet, sources of gluten seem very acceptable…

For some people, a gluten-free diet is essential to maintain good health (e.g. in coeliac disease) and other certain conditions. But what about the majority of us who may be blessed with good health and are striving to maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle?

According to the research published, there is no evidence to suggest that following a gluten-free diet leads to a better quality of your overall diet.

Many people believe that by cutting out gluten you are more likely to lose weight. Now, if we think about where gluten lurks (wheat, rye, barley and oats) it will be found in many manufactured processed sweet (e.g. cakes, biscuits and pastries) and savoury (e.g. bread, pasta and couscous) products.

So if you simply swap to a gluten-free diet including suitable versions of these sweet and savoury products you might be disappointed if the pounds don’t start to fall off! The reality is, most of these gluten-free substitutes are even higher in fat, sugar and calories (to help compensate with taste and texture) than non-gluten containing equivalents.

However, if you suddenly excluded certain gluten-containing foods -cakes, biscuits, pastries, bread and pasta and switched to naturally-gluten free foods e.g. quinoa, rice, potatoes, fruits and vegetables you might start to see progress in the weight loss department.

But wait a second, this sounds familiar…where have we heard that advice before? Oh wait! It’s healthy eating guidelines!!

New Eat Well Plate

The only difference is, is that healthy eating guidelines promote the consumption of wholegrain foods- so wholegrain gluten-containing foods for those who can tolerate them are encouraged. All the evidence suggests these provide us with energy, B vitamins, iron, folate and fibre and are beneficial for heart health and cancer prevention.

So  irrespective of whether you need to exclude gluten for health reasons or not,  the advice for us all remains the same – more unrefined wholegrain carbohydrates, less high fat and sugar foods and more fruit and vegetables.