Why cutting gluten is a bad idea

Dr Nick Fuller
Leading Obesity Expert at the University of Sydney and founder of Interval Weight Loss.

Recent research shows the number of people following ‘gluten-free’ has tripled in the past 10 years. And 70 percent of those following a gluten-free diet are not diagnosed with coeliac disease, but simply choosing to join this trendy movement without properly understanding it.  

Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disorder which is triggered by the consumption of gluten; a protein added to wheat, rye and barley, to give products like bread their elasticity and texture.

BUT it only affects 1% of the population. When people with coeliac disease eat gluten, they damage their small intestine and can’t absorb nutrients from food. They end up with unpleasant side effects such as itchy skin, heart burn, diarrhoea, bloating and constipation.

Gluten is not dangerous for the other 99% of us and cutting it out might be doing more harm than good. Here are 6 reasons why:

1. You self-diagnose

The only way to determine whether you have coeliac disease is to get tested by your doctor. They may send you for a blood test in the first instance, but the gold standard test is to have an endoscopy, which is where a specialised doctor (a gastroenterologist) sticks at tube down your throat with a camera on it, to check the lining of your intestine.

Self-diagnosing yourself after a chat with friends or colleagues, or by taking a quiz online, is the worst thing you can do. And stop jumping onto Dr Google – it’s doing more harm than good.

2. You will put on weight

So many of my patients have told me they have removed gluten from their diet because they think it makes them fat. They cut the carbs and then get excited because they see the number on the scales go down. But all you are doing is setting yourself up for a lifetime of misery. 

For every gram of carbohydrate - which is stored as glycogen in the body - it binds three times its weight in water. Therefore, what you are seeing on the scales isn’t a decrease in fat mass, but rather a decrease in water content in the body. Wholegrain carbs are the very foods that will help you on your weight loss journey, not hinder it. Worse still, if you start to include gluten-free biscuits, crackers, and other packaged foods, you will end up putting on weight. 

3. You won’t get enough fibre

Wheat, rye and barley are rich sources of fibre and we need lots of fibre for good bowel health and prevention of heart disease. Unless you make some suitable dietary switches, you won’t get the necessary 25 grams (females) to 30 grams (males) of fibre that you need every day. 

Suitable gluten-free grains that are also rich in fibre include rice, quinoa, millet and amaranth. 

4. You will waste your money

Opting for pre-packaged gluten-free products is expensive – many are double the price of the regular product. These products are also higher in fat, salt and sugar, and lower in protein and fibre, than their regular counterparts, in order to make them more palatable.

If you are diagnosed with coeliac disease, stick to foods that are naturally gluten-free – fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, nuts and eggs.

5. You will feel tired all the time

Many of my patients also blame gluten for their fatigue and low energy, but there is absolutely no evidence that gluten makes you feel sluggish. Instead, the opposite applies. A side effect of any sort of low carb diet is fatigue and weakness, particularly whilst exercising. Cutting out the breads and cereals will result in depleted muscle glycogen stores and without these stores you are going to feel less energetic during moderate and high-intensity exercise.

6. You will increase your risk of cancer

Everything you have ever been told about gluten causing cancer is false. The only people that are at risk are the 1% of the population that have coeliac disease.

Those gluten products that you are cutting from your diet are high in fibre. Research has clearly proven that a diet rich in wholegrain carbs and cereal fibre – such as the breads and cereals - will reduce, not increase, your risk of developing colon cancer.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with coeliac disease but are still convinced that you suffer from eating gluten, make sure to make appropriate dietary changes, with a particular focus on including plenty of grains that are naturally gluten-free.

About Dr Nick Fuller

Dr Nick Fuller is the founder of Interval Weight Loss and is a leading obesity expert at the University of Sydney with a Ph.D. in Obesity Treatment. Dr Fuller is also the author of three best-selling books and his work been published in top ranked journals in the medical field, including JAMA, Lancet and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.