A gluten-free diet excludes any foods that contain gluten, which is a protein found in wheat and several other grains. It means eating only whole foods that don’t contain gluten, such as fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs, as well as processed gluten-free foods like gluten-free bread or pasta.

A gluten-free diet is recommended for people with celiac disease, gluten-sensitivity or the skin disorder dermatitis herpetiformis. A gluten-free diet may be helpful for some people with irritable bowel syndrome, the neurological disorder gluten ataxia, type 1 diabetes and HIV-associated enteropathy.

Complications can arise if a person with celiac disease continues to eat gluten, such as:

  • nutrient deficiencies
  • anemia
  • weight loss
  • osteoporosis
  • infertility
  • multiple sclerosis
  • neurological conditions

The authors of this report suggest the following reasons for the wider population adopting a gluten-free diet:

  • public perception that a gluten-free diet is more healthful and may improve nonspecific gastrointestinal symptoms
  • gluten-free products are now more widely available
  • a growing number of people are diagnosing themselves with a gluten sensitivity and they have noticed that their gastrointestinal health has improved after cutting out gluten

Foods to eat

Many foods are naturally gluten-free. These include:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • eggs
  • fresh meats
  • fish and poultry
  • unprocessed beans
  • seeds and nuts
  • most dairy products
  • white rice
  • tapioca
  • grains such as buckwheat, corn and cornmeal, flax, rice, soy, arrowroot, and millet

If any product may have come into contact with grains, preservatives, or additives that contain gluten, a person with celiac disease should avoid it.

Can you go gluten-free to lose weight?

People who adopt a gluten-free diet often lose weight, but it’s usually because they also cut out a lot of processed foods and refined carbohydrates that contain gluten. If you stop eating gluten to lose weight, it’s important to watch your portion sizes, get regular exercise and eat plenty of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.

However, a gluten-free diet can still be a healthy way to eat depending on which gluten-free foods you choose, how often you eat them and whether your other food choices are healthy ones. Good gluten-free choices include naturally gluten-free foods, such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, vegetables, fruit, whole gluten-free grains and healthy fats.

It’s important not to replace gluten-containing foods with more red meat, full-fat dairy, starchy vegetables, sweets and fats, which can lead to a higher intake of cholesterol, saturated fat, sodium and unwanted calories.