"It's like I died and went to legalized processed-carbohydrate heaven," my friend said, pointing to the endless array of cookies, crackers, breads, and other sugary foods that lined nearly an entire prominently labeled gluten-free aisle at my local grocery store.
Remember a decade ago when low-carb reached its zenith (or nadir)? Suddenly, manufacturers created donuts, cookies, and other junk food repurposed as lower in carbohydrates and therefore "healthy." Except that it wasn't.
"Going gluten free" has reached that same laughingstock status these days. You can bastardize any diet plan, and imagining you'll suddenly lose fat and feel better eating gluten-free processed foods will only set you up for serious disappointment.
Experts continue to debate whether ditching gluten is a wise idea, and studies show, "[g]luten sensitivity is a controversial subject, where patients who have neither Celiac Disease nor wheat allergy have varying degrees of symptomatic improvement on the gluten-free diet."
Regardless, manufacturers got the message long ago that gluten-free is big business, even if studies show eating this way costs significantly more. "The business of gluten-free products is expected to grow 50 percent in the next few years to $15 billion in sales by 2016," writes Gerri Willis in Fox Business.
Many of these products contain the same "junk" ingredients and even more sugar than their gluten-containing equivalents.
"Some people who go off gluten to lose weight end up gaining weight instead," writes Dr. Arthur Agatston, author of The South Beach Diet. "That's because they consume gluten-free packaged products that are often just as high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium as other junk food, and these products often contain high-glycemic refined ingredients like white rice flour or fillers like potato starch that can affect your blood sugar and trigger cravings."
So no, going gluten-free does not automatically entail fat loss and becoming healthier if you're stocking up on crackers, cookies, pasta, and other high-carb junk. But do it correctly and ditching gluten can become the needle mover to ditch those last stubborn pounds.
I wouldn't yet call it a sea change, but as gluten-free becomes mainstream, the tide is swiftly turning. A recent study found a smartly designed gluten-free diet reduces your risks for inflammation and insulin resistance as well as helps you lose fat.
"Chronic inflammation is a part of every degenerative disease known to humankind," writes Dr. Jonny Bowden in The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer. "We're familiar with its role in allergies, acne, and asthma ... but what you might not be award of its inflammation's role in obesity, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and cognitive decline -- all the diseases of aging."
Numerous studies link insulin resistance with inflammation, obesity, and eventually Type 2 diabetes.
In other words, going gluten-free can provide fat loss and other immediate benefits, but it can also repay healthy dividends years and decades down the road.
Based on research coupled with years using IgG food intolerance testing, I believe nearly everyone does better on a gluten-free diet.
We can debate ad nauseam the numerous benefits of going gluten-free, but you needn't take my or any other expert's word about doing it. I've developed a more experiential solution: Pull gluten for three weeks and see if you don't notice the difference.
Chances are, you will. In fact, you might feel and look so much better that you go gluten-free permanently.
Many folks see syndromes they've dismissed as "normal" such as headaches disappear. Coupled with an anti-inflammatory diet that includes plenty of wild-caught fish and green vegetables, a gluten-free diet can seriously reduce inflammation. Even with the most weight-loss resistant cases, the scales start moving again.
Even if you don't notice improvements, you've got nothing to lose.
Nature created its own gluten-free menu, but you won't find most of it in the gluten-free aisle. Vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, high-fiber slow-release starchy carbs, and lean protein are all naturally gluten-free: No certification necessary. After all, you never have to worry about a little gluten slipping in broccoli or a sweet potato.
If you've pulled gluten -- either temporarily or permanently -- I'd love to hear from you. Was going gluten-free the magic bullet for fat loss, improved symptoms, and other noticeable benefits? And if you're up for the three-week challenge, I want to hear how it goes. Share your story below.
Jonny Bowden, The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer (Minnesota: Fair Winds, 2010).