One symptom of celiac disease is unexplained weight loss. If you’ve been there, you know why. If you haven’t, I envy you. Ain’t no fun always noting where every restroom in the world is, just in case you need to make a mad dash in that direction.
So, yeah, it makes sense that some celiac patients might gain weight after adopting a gluten-free diet. In many ways, this is a healthy thing. While I don’t know if you can be too rich, it is well-documented that you can be too thin. Part of regaining health for many who have celiac disease is returning to a healthy body mass, whatever that means for each person.
However, the video I discussed last week certainly wasn’t referring to the healthy weight gain that comes from a proper celiac diagnosis followed by a healthy diet. The video clearly made the point that the gluten-free diet leads to weight gain.
Let me say this again: This Is Not True.
That being said, most gluten-free processed foods are filled with extra calories and ingredients such as sodium to improve flavor. As you know, I strongly advocate against over-consumption of these foods. Oh, I will sometimes have a sandwich or burger on gluten-free bread after a long run, but generally prefer to get my calories from better food sources. Moderation, my friends, moderation.
Udi’s Whole Grain Bread, which is my personal GF bread of choice because it keeps just about forever in the freezer, comes in at 140 calories for two absurdly* tiny slices of bread. Fat comes in at 4 grams, no cholesterol to be found, sodium is 250 milligrams, and carbohydrates are 22 g, with fiber only accounting for 2 of those grams. The bread is made of a mix of flours, from brown rice to teff to potato starch to tapioca, plus various sugars and other ingredients.
Orowheat’s Whole Wheat bread, a reasonable comparison item, has a mere 3 grams of fiber per serving. It’s lower in fat, a5 1.5g, a tiny bit lower in sodium at 24 grams, and higher in carbs at 24 g. Protein weighs in at 6 grams versus Udi’s 4 grams. Calories are 130 for two slices of bread.
Bottom line is that both of these breads are comparable, but for size (and a smaller size isn’t necessarily a bad thing). On the surface, they aren’t the worst foods from a nutritional perspective, but they won’t keep you full for extended periods of time by themselves. You need to bulk up with proteins and fats to get a fully satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs meal.
Fat and carbohydrates are important for human health, so indulging in gluten-free baked goods on occasion isn’t the worst thing you can do. The problem is that foods quickly convert to sugar in your system, and too much sugar can lead to weight gain. It can also cause spikes that seem like boundless energy, but quickly turn into energy troughs as the glucose is consumed by your body.
Put another way, these foods are considered high glycemic, which is an indication of how quickly your body breaks the foods down into simpler sugars for digestion. Slower carbs break down, well, slower, which helps your body maintain a sustained energy level rather than peaks and valleys. Foods with high glycemic indexes and loads can lead to increased body fat and can increase the risk for Type 2 diabetes.
High-glycemic index foods include breads, sugars, fruits, potatoes and rice (I know, I know) and other processed foods, including cereals. They are great sources of carbs following exercise as they increase glycogen. This is a good thing. Otherwise, moderation is key.
Slow carbs include vegetables, high-fiber fruits like apples, whole grains, seeds, legumes / pulses, and other foods. They break down into sugars more slowly, helping you keep your energy up over an extended period of time. If you are at risk for Type 2 diabetes, one prescription your doctor will make is to transition your diet to one featuring slow carbs. Fast carbs can increase insulin levels, whereas slow carbs reduce those spikes.
The gluten-free diet eliminates wheat, barley, and rye, foods that are high-glycemic in their highly processed forms. Whole grains foods tend to have a lower-glycemic loads. Given the prevalence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in our society, it’s pretty clear that a gluten-free diet alone isn’t the source of the problem — it’s the foods consumed by anyone not following a low- or reduced-glycemic load diet.
So, myth busted. The gluten-free diet doesn’t lead to weight gain; it’s any diet that focuses more on simple sugars, less fiber (fiber is important!), and lack of exercise. It’s pretty easy to avoid these pitfalls while maintaining a happy and healthy gluten-free lifestyle (trust me, I’m living proof!).
* — The small size is due to the way gluten-free flours work, not the way Udi’s packages its products. I find the smaller size of the bread to be a huge plus because it is less bloating and filling.
Tip of the Week
As you transition from a high-glycemic load diet to a low-glycemic load diet, use online resources to help identify foods that will help you maintain energy. The listing at Everydayhealth.com will help get you started.
Gluten-Free Meal of the Week
After all that, I cannot do anything but point you toward something that meets all the requirements of a slow-carb meal. Because I was traveling last week, and, to be honest, eating outside my comfort zone, I couldn’t wait to get home and eat simple meals. I never appreciate the often-boring weeknight meals I prepare more than after eating non-stop restaurant meals.
Dinner, then, is a pretty simple thing: grill steak (about 3 ounces for me, which let’s the husband and I split a steak without either of us feeling like we’re missing anything), cumin-roasted carrots with a Greek yogurt dip spiked with a bit more cumin and lime juice, and a green salad featuring fruit. For fun, I tossed the grapes into a roasting basket on the grill to bring out their sweet flavors!
- Grilled Steak (or chicken or fish)
- Roasted Carrots with Greek Yogurt and Cumin Dip (make extra dip because this stuff is addictive)
- Green Salad with Light Vinaigrette and Mixed Fruits