What’s The Scoop On Gluten?

Bread Gluten

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By Maddie Hoeks, BS, CSUN Dietetic Intern

Gluten has become a very popular topic in the past couple of years, and has had quite an impact on diet culture in the United States. As of 2015, gluten free versions of foods have made around $1.6 billion in the market.1 Interestingly, the majority of these consumers were individuals who were not required to be on a gluten free diet for medical reasons.1 A market research study estimated that 30% of Americans either eliminated or reduced gluten from their diet.2 Though it is no question that gluten free products are highly valued and being sought after, what is of question is the consumer’s knowledge of what exactly gluten is, and what the gluten free diet is capable of, even more so, what it is not capable of.

What is gluten and who should avoid it?

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale, which is a cross of wheat and rye. Gluten is a useful protein as it gives food its shape and structure. It is sort of like a glue that binds things together, giving bread and other baked goods that airy texture.3 To most individuals gluten is a harmless part of food, but to some it is not so harmless. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that occurs in some individuals when damage can be done to the small intestines after gluten is consumed.4 It can be very serious and symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss.2 Celiac disease affects about 1 in 100 people worldwide, and over two million Americans are undiagnosed, which puts them at risk for other health complications.4 In addition to celiac disease there is term known as gluten sensitivity, in which an individual does not have celiac disease but may experience some of the symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating or abdominal pain. Gluten sensitivity is not well understood and there is not a standardized criteria for diagnosis.For those that experience symptoms upon eating gluten, it is important to talk to a physician. A simple screening will look at the blood of the individual, as those with celiac disease may show large amounts of a certain antibody when on a diet containing gluten.5 If needed, the next step would be a biopsy to check if there is damage and inflammation in the intestines from the ingestion of gluten.6 This process is crucial as it can direct people who need to be on a gluten free diet to begin one, and prevent people from being on this diet who do not need to.

The Health Halo Effect:

Gluten free foods have become more available within this past decade. Some individuals that follow a gluten free diet believe it can help them lose weight, treat autoimmune disease, and improve their skin1. However, research is lacking to back up these attributes of gluten free diets in those without celiac disease. Because of the special labeling gluten free products get, the health halo effect begins to take its course. This is when consumers begin to believe that a food item is considered healthy if it is lacking an ingredient of some kind.1 Research has shown that about one third of individuals who are buying gluten free foods, feel that these food items are in fact healthier than the version with gluten.1

Do gluten free diets help you lose weight?

The gluten free diet has become valued by many individuals as a potential weight loss method. Following a gluten free diet has been linked to individuals who are more likely to engage in unhealthy diet related behavior in order to lose weight.1 Eating gluten free means eliminating many foods from the diet which alone may cause weight loss.7 However, this does not mean it is a healthy method, as research has shown that eliminating gluten may lead to an diet that is low in carbohydrates, iron, folate, niacin, zinc and fiber.7 On the other hand, being on a gluten free diet could potentially cause weight gain, as many of the gluten free products have a higher fat or sugar content to compensate. For example, a serving of pretzels has 108 calories and 1 gram of fat, while a serving of gluten free pretzels has 140 calories and 6 grams of fat.7 Though it may be very valuable and important to eliminate gluten from an individuals diet for medical reasons such as celiac disease, a diet that has a variety of whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grains, will provide the best health outcomes for most individuals.

Be sure to share this information with others to help spread the facts about a gluten free diet! If you would like further information on an individualized diet information, be sure to book an appointment at the Marilyn Magaram Center for Nutrition Counseling with a Registered Dietitian that can help you meet your health goals.


  1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Valuing gluten-free foods relates to health behaviors in young adults: New study in journal of the academy of nutrition and dietetics. https://www.eatrightpro.org. Updated June 18, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019.
  2. Krigel, A, Lebwohl B, Nonceliac gluten sensitivity. Advances in Nutrition. 2016;7(6):1105-1110. doi: https://doi.org/10.3945/an.116.012849
  3. Celiac Disease Foundation. What is gluten? org. Accessed January 2, 2019.
  4. Celiac Disease Foundation. What is celiac disease? org. Accessed January 2, 2019.
  5. Celiac Disease Foundation. Screening. org. Accessed January 7, 2019.
  6. Celiac Disease Foundation. Diagnosis. org. Accessed January 7, 2019.
  7. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Gluten-free diet and weight loss. https://www.eatrightpro.org. Updated August 27, 2015. Accessed January 2, 2019.

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