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Is gluten making me fat?

Michaela Ballmann
Nutrition & Dietetics
The Gluten-Free Diet has become vastly popular, with many people claiming that it helps them lose weight. There are actually very few people who need to be on this diet; Most people will not benefit from it, and may even gain weight from it since the flour substitutes and GF products on the market tend to be more Calorically-dense than their gluten-containing counterparts.

Who needs to be on the GF diet? This diet is designed to help people who cannot tolerate gluten, the protein found in wheat (and its relatives like spelt), rye, and barley. Other foods, namely oats, can be “contaminated” with gluten if they are harvested and/or processed by the same machines that handle wheat, rye, and barley. The oats would get gluten on them, but don’t naturally contain gluten themselves. Gluten is actually a combination of glutenin and gliadin, two proteins with slightly different properties that act together to make dough that is chewy and springy.

So, what’s the problem with gluten? There is no inherent problem with it. The problem shows up when people’s bodies are unable to tolerate it. This is the case with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease that is in the spotlight these days. With this disease, the ingestion of gluten leads to an immune system response wherein the villi of the intestine (important for absoprtion) become inflamed and damaged or destroyed. Common symptoms are mainly gastrointestinal, including constipation or diarrhea, cramping, and bloating (If you feel like you're gaining weight, it could be bloating. Gluten does not inherently lead to weight gain).

To put this in perspective, a commonly quoted statistic is that 1 in 133 people, which translates to more than 2 million people in the US (or somewhere around .7% of the population) have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, though many more are estimated to go undiagnosed.  

Others may be Gluten Sensitive, meaning that they experience similar symptoms after ingesting gluten, and the symptoms can be relieved by the removal of gluten from the diet.  

Still others may have a wheat allergy, which involves a dangerous allergic response to wheat products and causes hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing. 

Unless you have Celiac Disease, a Gluten Sensitivity, or a Wheat Allergy, there is no conclusive research to suggest that you will benefit from a Gluten-Free Diet.
Doubtful. Gluten intolerance is technically called Celiac Sprue disease and it is an inherited, autoimmune disease. It can develop at anytime in life and it is essentially an “allergy” to the proteins in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. Its diagnosis usually comes about through serious complications and discomfort associated with one’s diet. It is no way linked to obesity, and weight loss is a common symptom of the disorder. If one has this, then they must follow a gluten-free diet to avoid the possibly serious health effects associated with eating gluten. There are clinical and genetic blood tests that can be used to determine if one has the disease. The prevalence is less than 5% in those with a strong familial link and is less than 1% in the general population. The current trend of gluten-free diets is likely a new diet that is meant to appeal to those that are frustrated with weight loss attempts. The likelihood that the majority of the population has recently become gluten intolerant and is overweight as a result stretches credibility. For the overwhelming majority of people that suffer with being overweight, it is an imbalance of calories eaten versus calories burned.
Sasson E. Moulavi, MD
General Practice

No, eating gluten can’t make you fat directly, the problem is gluten often is in high carbs food that can make you fat (bread, cakes, bagels etc.). If you are not gluten allergic or intolerant you don’t need to avoid gluten. If you are, gluten will cause food not to be absorbed  that will lead to weight loss. Some people may get inflammation from gluten allergy and retain fluid causing a very small weight gain. 

Annemarie Colbin
Nutrition & Dietetics
First of all, you don't eat gluten (unless you're having seitan). What you eat are foods that contain gluten -- mostly wheat, barley, rye, and oats, in all their permutations. Gluten is the protein-carrying part of grains that develops with kneading; it makes the food elastic and holds it together. Therefore, in a Western diet with its heavy emphasis on bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, and other flour products, there can be a lot of gluten. Some people have an autoimmune response (celiac-sprue), others find they feel better and sleep better if they just avoid the stuff. It is unlikely that a person would lose weight if gluten is avoided because often people just replace gluten-containing foods with gluten-free imitation foods that are just as filling (make sure to read labels if you're choosing gluten-free!). Gluten-free grains include corn, millet, and buckwheat (kasha).
Enas Shakkour
Nutrition & Dietetics
A gluten-free diet is a diet that avoids gluten, which is a protein found in foods. Gluten is found in foods such as barley, bulgur, durum, farina, graham flour, rye, semolina, and wheat. Corn, potatoes, rice, and tapioca are acceptable in a gluten-fred diet. Gluten is a protein, and it does not cause weight gain. Overconsumption of calories regardless of the source leads to weight gain. Unless you are gluten-intolerant, you can eat gluten without any problems. Eat a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly. Make sure you are not drinking sugary drinks and snacking on junk food. Extra snacking, excess sugar and fat could lead to overconsumption of calories which causes weight gain.
Devin Alexander
Nutrition & Dietetics

If you overeat pretty much anything, it can make you fat. So from that standpoint, yes. But having some gluten in your diet, depending on your particular body make-up could actually help you lose weight. I, for instance, have much more energy when I've eaten some whole grains or wheat-based foods (which I try to do early in the day so my body burns them). They help me feel energized to workout and thus, I could potentially lose weight by eating them.

Margaret Floyd
Nutrition & Dietetics
There's a lot of misinformation out there about gluten and gluten-free diets. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and many other grains. Gluten in and of itself does not cause weight gain in healthy individuals who can tolerate it.

Some individuals have a gluten-intolerance, which ranges from severe (i.e., celiac disease) to mild (i.e., mild digestive discomfort and symptoms of grogginess, headaches, and fuzzy head), and in these cases consumption of gluten can lead to bloating and eventual weight gain. If you aren't sensitive to gluten, however, eating a small to moderate amounts of gluten-containing grains shouldn't contribute to weight gain. 

That said, the overconsumption of starches and grains (whether they contain gluten or not) can contribute to weight gain. Starchy foods (particularly refined grains, sugars, excess fruit, and potatoes) cause a spike in blood sugar and an associated spike in insulin, which stores that extra sugar as fat. So in this way, gluten (and non-gluten) grains can all contribute to weight gain. 
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Gluten can make people with sensitivities feel tired and depressed, which could lead to weight gain. In this video, Dr. Oz and Dr. Mark Hyman explain why a gluten detox might be beneficial for the body.
Amy Jones
Nutrition & Dietetics
Unlikely. Gluten is a protein that only causes medical issues for those who are sensitive to it, or for those who have Celiac disease (an autoimmune condition). Eating gluten does not cause weight gain on it's own. However, overeating some gluten-containing foods like bread and pasta can lead to weight gain. That weight gain would be cause by calories, not gluten.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.