It is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, as well as many common food additives. It gives dough its elasticity and baked goods their chewiness. But people with celiac disease – a type of autoimmune disorder – have to avoid foods that contain gluten because it can lead to damage to the small intestine, poor nutrient absorption, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating, anaemia and fatigue. Celiac disease affects about one in every 133 people, according to a 2003 study from the University of Maryland in the US. There is no cure for celiac disease; sufferers have to stick to a gluten-free diet for the rest of their lives.
Gluten is found in many fattening foods – pizza, beer, burgers and pancakes. Some people thus avoid gluten because they think it makes them fat and less energetic. But Field explains that it is the refined carbohydrates in these foods, and probably not gluten, which result in weight gain. A gluten-free diet is thus beneficial because it makes you stay away from some refined carbohydrates that can lead to weight gain.
It can. But it may be difficult to commit to it because you need to constantly monitor your diet, says Edward Abramson, PhD, a professor emeritus at California State University and the author of Emotional Eating. And it does not help that healthy-sounding gluten-free items (which include pizza, pasta, and cookies) often contain just as many calories as the originals. An overindulgence in what seem like “safe” foods can actually lead to weight gain. So, mindful eating is key to making your gluten-free diet work.