Give a gluten-free diet a try

  • Published
  • By Col. Michelle A. Williams
  • 459th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander
Back in December I wrote a commentary entitled "Drastic Measures for Drastic Results...User Beware!" and I received many questions regarding my #3 challenge to
"Eliminate all wheat products (pasta, bread) with gluten and focus on gluten free products and whole grains like rice."

So I would like to focus a while on gluten, and how it can negatively affect your weight loss goals.

According to leading nutritionist and author, Dr. Alan H. Pressman, a Board Certified Dietitian/Nutritionist,

"Gluten is a protein, and it can be found in wheat, rye, and barley. Many people are allergic to it, and millions of people are sensitive to it. It can trigger all sorts of inflammatory responses in your intestinal track and entire body. It creates chronic inflammation throughout the body, and if you are sensitive or allergic to it can cause a 72 percent increased risk of death. That's pretty serious business."

Gluten intolerance is an emerging area of scientific understanding. Gluten sensitivity affects six percent of the population, which corresponds to about 18 million Americans. An estimated 99 percent of people don't even realize they're gluten -sensitive. Gluten can be found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and oats. It is hidden in pizza, pasta, bread, wraps, rolls, and most processed foods. Clearly, gluten is a staple of the American diet. For gluten-sensitive people, this protein triggers an immune reaction that damages your small intestine and prevents nutrient absorption.

Food in this country has a much higher strain of gluten, which aids with the texture of processed foods. Ever wonder how they get Wonder Bread so light and fluffy? Now you know. Carbohydrate-rich foods make up a large part of the modern-day diet and include bagels, cakes, chocolate, cookies, crackers, pastry, fruit and fruit juice, ice cream, potato chips, potatoes, pretzels, rice, pie, popcorn and sugar-sweetened beverages. In addition, carbohydrate "act-a-likes" such as sugar substitutes, alcoholic beverages and monosodium glutamate may trigger intense, recurring carbohydrate cravings, which can lead to excess weight and obesity.

Proteins such as gluten result in the production of substances that can have addictive, narcotic-like effects. These substances are called "exorphins." Hydrolyzed wheat gluten, for example, has been found to prolong intestinal transit time and may contribute to weight gain. The effects of exorphins on the brain tell a person to keep eating gluten products, which, in turn, could contribute to the mental disturbances and appetite disorders that routinely accompany food-related illnesses.

Many food "addicts" are right to suspect there is a physical reason that makes them crave carbohydrates and put weight on easily. But the underlying cause of their struggles often goes undiagnosed and untreated by the medical profession.

A recent large study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity suffer more heart disease and cancer. Inflammation triggered by gluten can also contribute to osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Another study in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 health problems eating gluten can trigger or exacerbate. You might never connect gluten with problems like canker sores, for instance, or fatigue, anxiety, depression, and migraines.

Leptin is an important hormone involved in sending a signal of satiety to your brain, indicating to your body that you have eaten enough. Leptin contributes to a healthy body weight by keeping your hunger and satiety in check. However, it was found that overweight and obese people have leptin resistance, which means that although their leptin levels are high, their cells are resistant and do not register the satiety signals. Grains, especially the gluten-containing ones, are thought to contribute to leptin resistance and therefore weight gain and obesity, according to a study by Swedish and Danish researchers published in the December 2005 issue of "BMC Endocrine Disorders."

Lastly, most gluten-containing foods are processed, filled with sugar, and bomb your body with empty carbs that create insulin release and make you store fat. The diet you should be eating includes clean protein, high-fiber starchy foods, veggies, and nuts and seeds. Guess what? Nature made these foods naturally gluten free.

According to Dr. Mark Hyman, family physician, best selling author, and an internationally recognized leader in the field of functional medicine, the only way you will know if this is really a problem for you is to eliminate all gluten for a short period of time (two to four weeks) and see how you feel. (You can certainly have gluten allergy/celiac disease tests done, that are available through Labcorp or Quest Diagnostics, but this is an easier identification of gluten sensitivity.) Get rid of the following foods:
  • Gluten (barley, rye, oats, spelt, kamut, wheat, triticale-see for a complete list of foods that contain gluten, as well as often surprising and hidden sources of gluten.)
  • Hidden sources (soup mixes, salad dressings, sauces, as well as lipstick, certain vitamins, medications, stamps and envelopes you have to lick, and even Play-Doh.)
For this test to work you MUST eliminate 100 percent of the gluten from your diet-no exceptions, no hidden gluten, and not a single crumb of bread. Be sure to read every is hidden in many things!

Then eat it again and see what happens. If you feel bad at all, you need to stay off gluten permanently. This will teach you better than any test about the impact gluten has on your body.

The best way to find out whether a gluten-free diet could help you lose weight is to give it a try for a period of 4 to 8 weeks. Start by weighing yourself and measuring your body at strategic places, such as breast, arm, waist, hip and thigh. Eliminate all sources of gluten from your diet. Read the ingredient list carefully and when eating out, ask the waiter how the food is served and prepared to prevent both gluten contamination and cross-contamination. After your gluten-free trial period, you will be able to determine whether a gluten-free diet could help you reach your desired goal weight.

So give "gluten free" free a try for 2-8 weeks and see if you notice a difference in your disposition, your health, and your weight. It really isn't as difficult as it sounds.