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Why am I gaining weight on a gluten-free diet?

Melina B. Jampolis, MD
Internal Medicine
You may gain weight on a gluten-free diet if you eat too many packaged foods, which replace gluten with ingredients like fat, sugar and salt. Watch nutrition specialist Melina Jampolis, MD, discuss why you should avoid gluten-free packaged foods. 
Alexandria Hardy
Nutrition & Dietetics
There is a common misconception that gluten-free foods are healthier than foods that contain gluten. This is untrue, as plenty of unhealthy, high calorie foods and beverages are technically gluten-free but contribute no nutritional value to the diet. For example, many baked goods can be made with gluten-free mixes but are still calorically comparable to "regular" cookies and cakes.

Portion sizes are also key (reference "My Plate" for more information) as being gluten-free does not equate to larger portions. The bigger the serving of food/drink, the more calories it will contain.
Julieanna Hever, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Gluten-free has nothing to do with weight loss. Simply stated, gluten is the primary protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. Avoiding a single protein has never been shown to promote weight loss.

Weight loss is a simple calculation, balancing calories in and calories out. The problem with this glorified concept of gluten-free eating is that the only benefit of following a diet omitting gluten is reserved for someone that has a gluten intolerance or allergy or has been diagnosed with celiac disease. Some other people may perhaps find a benefit with eliminating gluten if this means they are cutting out processed foods which happen to be predominant in gluten-containing foods....particularly wheat and wheat-derived products.

I recommend everyone, regardless of whether you are gluten-intolerant or not, eliminate processed and refined food products including cookies, cakes, most breads, crackers, doughnuts, and other similar products for optimal weight management.
Michaela Ballmann
Nutrition & Dietetics
It is actually more common than you might think to gain weight on a gluten-free diet, especially for those with no medical reason to go on this diet. Unless you have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a wheat allergy, there is not much evidence that you will benefit from this diet. A gluten-free diet involves replacing gluten-containing foods with gluten-free substitutes. Unfortunately, these substitutes are often more calorically-dense and lower in fiber than their gluten-containing counterparts. For example, white rice and tapioca flours are both commonly used, but are both very low (or absent) in fiber. I would recommend using gluten-free flours higher in fiber like amaranth, brown rice, millet, quinoa, and teff.
 
Nadine Pazder
Nutrition & Dietetics
You are eating too many calories or not getting enough exercise. Or both! A gluten-free diet is not low in calories. But it can be low in fiber so you may be eating more of those grains to feel full. And getting more calories in the process. Make an appointment with a registered dietitian to get a plan that meets your specific needs.
Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics
If you are gaining weight on a gluten-free diet, you are probably eating more calories than you think. Just because you are omitting foods with gluten, such as bread or pasta, you may be consuming big portions of rice or gluten-free carbs.
Louise Goldberg
Nutrition & Dietetics
Baked goods, breads, crackers or pastas that are gluten-free tend to use more refined flours that are very low in fiber and less filling. This means you may eat more of these foods (and consume more calories) in order to feel satisfied. Excess calories leads to weight gain.

If you do not have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, there is little justification for staying on a gluten-free diet. It would be better to stick with high fiber, satisfying foods.
You may be gaining weight on a gluten-free diet because these so-called gluten-free products, such as breads, may contribute to weight gain by adding extra saturated fat, sugar and sodium as substitutes. Processed gluten-free foods try to compensate for flavor and texture changes which result from the removal of gluten.
Dr. Mark Hyman, MD
Family Medicine
It's a surprising statistic, but a study found that 81% of people suffering from celiac disease (gluten intolerance) who followed a gluten-free diet gained weight. That's because there is a common misconception that anything labeled "gluten-free" must be good for you.

Many processed gluten-free foods and gluten-free junk foods not only contain almost twice the calories as their traditional counterparts, but they can also be double the price. In addition, processed gluten-free foods are lower in fiber, so you won't stay full as long, and many people who follow a gluten-free diet are missing out on the benefits of good carbohydrates like brown rice, fruits or beans, which all help to regulate blood sugar.
Donna Feldman
Nutrition & Dietetics
Going gluten-free does not guarantee that your diet will be either healthy or lower in calories. It just means you're avoiding foods with gluten, a protein found in wheat. There is nothing magical about gluten-free for weight loss. Your body still does the age-old calorie math of "Calories In (food) vs. Calories Out (exercise and metabolism)." Too many Calories In means weight gain. When Calories In equals Calories Out, you just stay the same weight. Even when the calories are from gluten-free foods.

If you're gaining weight, you're eating more calories than you need. A gluten-free diet that's full of gluten-free cookies, gluten-free cakes, gluten-free snack foods and bars is easily going to be high calorie. Soda pop, candy and ice cream are technically gluten-free, but they're still high calorie.

The best way to lose weight is to stick to simple, unprocessed foods: vegetables, fruits and non-wheat whole grains like rice or quinoa, lean meats and dairy products. This is always good advice, whether or not you're eating gluten-free. A diet of gluten-free junk food is not going to help you lose weight.
Amy Jones
Nutrition & Dietetics
It depends very much on the reason you are following a gluten-free diet. Are you diagnosed celiac/gluten intolerant?  Particularly if you are celiac, the weight gain you see may be due to increased absorption of food (now that the small intestine is healing). In my experience with patients, a few pounds of weight gain is very common as patients start feeling better on the gluten-free diet.

If you are following the diet for other reasons, it's important to remember that gluten-free foods can be higher in calories, and many "junk" forms of gluten-free foods (i.e cookies, brownies, cakes) can derail your weight loss efforts. Focus on lower calorie items like gluten-free whole grains (quinoa, amaranth), fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. 
Tracy Konoske
Nutrition & Dietetics
Gluten-free foods in a processed form may contain A LOT of calories. In addition to having more calories than non-gluten free items, most are still unrefined meaning that the grains are not enriched with iron, B vitamins, etc. And people who are eating gluten free for the right reasons (celiac, gluten intolerance) may need all the nutrients they can get to heal. 

Better ways to eat gluten free are to stick to whole, natural foods. Like any fruit in its natural state, any vegetable in its natural state, nuts and seeds with or without salt (but check ingredients when smoked or in a processed trail mix item), and whole grains like quinoa, white or brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, teff, etc. Protein sources like chicken, pork, beef, and seafood can be cooked from scratch so that you avoid gluten sources in marinades, rubs, etc. 

Living without gluten does not have to mean living with bigger clothes!
Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
A diet without gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, reduces intake of these low calorie whole grains with fiber which provide a feeling of fullness. Many gluten-free snack products are offered on the market which provide extra calories with few nutrients including fiber. A diet low in fiber may result in increased hunger and food intake. If extra calories are consumed from these gluten-free snack foods, than expended in energy weight gain may result.
Molly Morgan
Nutrition & Dietetics
The reason may be because many gluten-free products are higher in fat and calories than their gluten containing counterparts. Quick tips: up the amount of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, brown rice, and products that are all naturally gluten-free and downplay the amount of processed gluten-free foods. This should help reduce your overall calorie intake and slow/stop the weight gain.
Sarah Koszyk
Nutrition & Dietetics
When it comes down to it, in order to lose weight on any diet, one must technically consume less calories than expended in order to have a deficit. If a person is following a gluten-free diet, make sure that portion sizes are still accountable and a balance is found in all the food groups such as gluten-free grains/starches (potatoes, yams, rice, quinoa, etc.), vegetables, proteins, fats, fruits, milk/dairy. Also, make sure to read the labels on gluten-free packages because a brownie is still a brownie. Even if the brownie is gluten-free, it still has calories, fat, and sugar. One should still be aware of portion sizes and frequency with packaged goods.
Dee Sandquist
Nutrition & Dietetics

If you are substituting gluten-free products for gluten-containing counterparts, you are most likely eating more calories overall. Prepared gluten-free foods such as cookies, cakes and breads generally have less fiber and more fat. The fat helps the texture and flavor, however, adds calories. The quality of the diet is important. Choose nutrient rich foods that include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Eat less of sweet treats and baked products that are gluten-free.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics
A gluten-free diet is not a calorie-restricted diet, and can still lead to weight gain. The best thing to do for weight loss is to monitor the portion of gluten-free foods that you are eating, and meet with a registered dietitian. Find one at www.eatright.org.
Rachel Begun
Nutrition & Dietetics
There are many reasons why weight gain is experienced on a gluten-free diet. For those who have celiac disease and are starting a gluten-free diet for the first time, your intestines are healing and you are now absorbing nutrients. This is a healthy weight gain and, if eating nutritious foods and taking in the right amount of calories, your weight should balance out after several months on a gluten-free diet. Prior to going gluten free, celiac disease patients are not absorbing nutrients and so are often underweight or weigh less for the amount of calories they are taking in.

For those on a gluten-free diet who don't have celiac disease, or who have celiac disease and continue to gain weight after a long time on a strict gluten-free diet, weight gain can be a result of the gluten-free food choices you are making.
Gluten-free packaged products are often higher in fat, calories and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts and devoid of nutrients. Eating too much of these foods can lead to weight gain. A healthy gluten-free diet should consist mostly of naturally gluten free foods, including: fresh fruits and vegetables; lean meats, poultry and fish; low-fat dairy; gluten-free whole grains; legumes; nuts; and seeds.
Karen Ansel
Nutrition & Dietetics
Gluten-free diets may sound like a magic bullet for weight loss but they can actually backfire. One reason is that prepackaged gluten-free foods often have added fat and sugar added to make up for the lack of flavor and texture that results when foods are made without gluten. As a result, many gluten free foods can have more calories than their gluten-containing counterparts. Gluten-free pizza, pretzels and cookies are all prime examples. Another reason is that gluten-free foods are often highly processed and low in fiber. Without fiber to slow down their digestion they don't fill us up so we're likely to eat more of them in order to stay full. Bottom line: unless you have celiac disease, you don't need a gluten-free diet. Otherwise, your best bet for weight loss is a well-balanced, portion-controlled diet.
Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics

A gluten-free diet is not a weight loss diet! The basic principle of lower calories eaten vs. higher calories burned = weight loss holds true. If you are not careful with your portions and caloric intake, weight gain is possible and certain even on a gluten-free diet.

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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.