Research published in the latest issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics indicates there is no benefit for the average healthy adult to follow a gluten-free diet. It also discredits the perception that going gluten-free is an effective way to lose weight. The paper, "Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population?" authored by Arizona State University professor and researcher, Glenn Gaesser, Ph.D., explores misperceptions about the gluten-free diet and the scientific support for following it.
Gluten is the protein found in the grains wheat, rye and barley. For people affected by celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, the only existing treatment is to avoid all foods containing gluten. Approximately one percent of Americans have celiac disease and another six percent are estimated to suffer from gluten sensitivity, yet some believe a gluten-free diet leads to good health.
Gaesser found there is no evidence that the gluten-free diet provides benefits to the general population and that gluten itself may provide important benefits, such as supporting heart, gut and immune system health. After reviewing the existing research on gluten, he also concluded the gluten-free diet is not an effective weight-loss method, noting that it often leads to weight gain because many gluten-free products contain more added fats and sugars than their gluten-containing counterparts.
"This paper is one of the first to look at the other side of the gluten craze. While the gluten-free diet is an important medical treatment for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, far too many Americans are following the diet for reasons that simply do not make sense," Gaesser said in a press release. "Even though it has been endorsed by celebrities for weight loss, let's face it–they are not the experts on nutrition and health. It's time to listen to the science."
These findings contradict a recent Harris survey of more than 2,000 adults polled about their perceptions and use of the gluten-free diet. Of those participants who followed the diet, half reported doing it to "feel better" and 26 percent use it as a "diet for losing weight." Additionally, the gluten-free market shows no signs of slowing down. The industry has grown 27 percent since 2009, exceeding $6 billion in 2011, according to Mintel.