Going gluten-free is the new “it” diet—but can it help you lose weight? Celebs like Russell Crowe seem to think so. The Australian actor is trying to get back into Gladiator shape by going gluten-free—he has already lost 16 pounds, according to FitCeleb.com.
The new Robin Hood isn’t the only one giving up gluten. After his nutritionist discovered he had trouble digesting gluten, tennis player Novak Djokovic switched to the diet and went on to win Wimbledon (not necessarily because of the diet, naturally). Both Drew Brees and Ryan Phillippe have similar sensitivity issues.
But there’s a big difference between cutting out gluten to lose weight, like Crowe, and going gluten-free because you’re allergic to the stuff. If you’re just trying to lose weight, here’s what you should know about this trend.
What’s the appeal?
Gluten is a type of protein naturally found in wheat, rye, and barley. One in 133 adults have celiac disease, intolerance for the protein, which forces them to follow a gluten-free diet. Yet many people are making the switch whether or not they have the allergy. (Imagine this happening with any other food intolerance—”the lactose intolerant diet,” anyone?)
“I think part of the appeal is that some celebrities have publicly talked about how giving up gluten has helped them, and people hear ‘success stories’ from family members or coworkers who have felt transformed by going gluten-free,” says Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., and nutritionist for the New York Rangers.
Can it help you lose weight?
Sass explains that nobody truly needs gluten—it’s just a protein found in some grain foods. But giving it up doesn’t automatically mean weight loss—and eating it doesn’t cause weight gain. “Some people think that a gluten-free diet is a grain-free diet, which isn’t true because not every grain contains gluten—even some types of rice and quinoa are gluten-free,” says Sass. “But if that’s your perception and you eliminate all grains, you’re going to cut significant calories, which will probably lead to weight loss.”
On the other hand, if you hit the health store and load up on gluten-free brownies, you’ll probably tip the scale in the wrong direction. Remember: Just because something is labeled as gluten-free, doesn’t mean it has fewer calories.
Should you try it?
Bottom line: Unless you have a medical reason, there’s no reason to jump on the bandwagon and go gluten-free. Sure, it can lead to weight loss, but so can cutting out all foods beginning with consonants. Omitting gluten is just as arbitrary.
That is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. Determining whether or not you’re sensitive to the protein can be tricky since a lot of the symptoms can be attributed to other digestive issues. “People with gluten intolerance, meaning they test negative for celiac disease, still have symptoms that can include flu-like feelings, diarrhea, bloating, gas, headaches, acid reflux and fatigue,” Sass says. The best way to diagnosis is to try the gluten-free diet for a few days and see if symptoms improve. Note: It’s not an overnight fix—it could take up to 2 weeks to notice improvements. Learn more about symptoms here.