In an Today show interview with Meredith Vieira, the medical editor of Health magazine recommends that only people with a sensitivity or intolerance for gluten proteins -- found in wheat, rye and barley -- should be on gluten-free diets.
Who Should Be on a Gluten-Free Diet?
MEREDITH VIEIRA, reporting:
This morning on EAT SMART TODAY, gluten-free diets. More people, including Hollywood A-listers like Anne Hathaway and Gwyneth Paltrow, are eliminating the protein found in wheat, rye and barley from their diets. TODAY contributor Dr. Roshini Raj is medical editor of Health magazine, author of the new book "What the Yuck?!" ? Dr. Raj, good morning to you.
VIEIRA: When they started talking about gluten-free diets being good if you want to lose weight, you sort of made a face there.
Dr. RAJ: Yeah.
Dr. RAJ: I'm a bit skeptical about that. You know, when people hear the word "diet," they assume that means weight loss, but diet just refers to how we eat. And in fact, people with celiac disease, that's a true allergy to gluten, once they start a gluten-free diet, they actually gain weight. And, you know, gluten-free doesn't mean it's a low-caloric food, in fact many of the foods, and we have some here, that are gluten-free, they put more sugars and fats in them to make it more flavorful. So if you want to go gluten-free because you have celiac disease or you have a sensitivity to gluten, meaning you just don't feel well when you have a lot of wheat, that makes sense; if you're doing it just for weight loss, it doesn't make a lot of sense.
VIEIRA: So what is fueling this trend then, do you think people just assume that it's like a low-fat or a low-carb diet and then...
Dr. RAJ: Yeah. I think first of all, celiac disease is a very, very common disorder in the US, so many people know people on gluten-free diets, and when they hear the word "diet" they think, `Oh, maybe I should try that.' And everyone's sort of looking for that villain in their diet that they can cut out. If you do cut out a lot of carbs, you are going to lose weight, but not just gluten.
VIEIRA: Well, I yeah well, I got to tell you, I cut out gluten and I have to say I felt a lot better when I did it.
Dr. RAJ: Yeah.
VIEIRA: So there must be some health benefits even if you don't have the intolerance to gluten.
Dr. RAJ: Right. Well, I think you may be feeling better because you may have not the true intolerance but what we call gluten sensitivity. So some people do get a little bloated or fatigued, you know, they have some problems with their bowel movements and they do feel better. But a normal healthy person who doesn't have that really shouldn't feel very different whether they have gluten or not.
VIEIRA: Also, a gluten-free diet is very, very restrictive. All of these foods...
Dr. RAJ: Extremely.
VIEIRA: ...do have gluten in them. I automatically assume pastas, breads, cookies, cakes, but it...
Dr. RAJ: No.
VIEIRA: ...extends to a lot of other products.
Dr. RAJ: Absolutely. Including things like soy sauce. It can even be in lipstick. I mean, gluten in minute amounts can cause problems for people who have a true sensitivity.
VIEIRA: And in beer as well and soy sauce.
Dr. RAJ: Beer. It can be very expensive to be on a gluten-free diet, and that's why I don't think people should just go on it just for the sake of, you know, maybe losing weight. And if you think you may have an intolerance, it's important to not put yourself on the diet but actually get tested with your doctor because the test is not accurate if you've cut out gluten.
VIEIRA: Are there any real risks, though, once again, to do this?
Dr. RAJ: Well, you know, many of the foods that have wheat in it are also fortified with a lot of vitamins, they have fiber in it, so if you're really restricting gluten, you may miss out on some of those important nutrients. So if you want to go on a gluten-free diet, you should really do it with a nutritionist to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need.
VIEIRA: Do you get the sense that it is a fad that will go away with the general public?
Dr. RAJ: I kind of do because, first of all, it's very difficult to stick to. So it may sound great for the first couple of months but, you know, you have to worry about when you go to a restaurant, how they're cooking the food, even if you're cooking at home, there's a lot of hidden sources of gluten. So I don't think it's really been proven to cause weight loss.
VIEIRA: All right. Dr. Roshini Raj, thank you so much.
DR. RAJ: Thank you.
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