Expert: Shelley Case, RD, author of Gluten Free: The Definitive Resource Guide (Case Nutrition Consulting, 2016)

What it means: Gluten is the general name for a group of proteins found in the grains wheat, rye and barley, says Case. Gluten-free diets avoid these three grains and their derivatives.

Why it’s a thing: A gluten-free diet is medically necessary for those with celiac disease (a severe, inherited autoimmune intestinal disorder) and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which most experts believe is an inflammatory disorder. Other people adopt a gluten-free diet with hopes it will accelerate weight loss, in a quest to eat healthier or to support friends or family who need to be gluten free.

“If you don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, going gluten free is not a ‘magic bullet’ to cure everything that ails you,” warns Case. Contrary to what many believe, science does not support the diet as a healthier way to live or as a means to weight loss.

What it takes: “Regardless of whether someone has celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or is following the diet by choice, adapting to a strict gluten-free lifestyle can be extremely challenging,” says Case. Traditional breads, pastas and the like are obviously off-limits, but a lot of unexpected products also contain gluten, such as soy sauce, many soups and gravies, bouillon cubes and more. Determining gluten-free status of products and meals takes time, and finding gluten-free foods can make traveling and social eating difficult. Lastly, gluten-free alternatives are often significantly more expensive than their counterparts, they are not required to be enriched with iron and B vitamins like foods made with wheat flour, and many are low in nutrients, often lacking in fiber and consisting largely of refined grains and empty starches.

If science doesn’t support gluten free as a means for a healthier diet or weight loss, then why would people choose it if they don’t have to? It’s likely that removing many of the high-calorie, low-nutrient, gluten-containing foods from the diet and replacing them with wholesome, nutrient-rich foods makes the pathway to healthier eating easier. However, you can do that without removing gluten.

What's my ideal diet? Jump to: 

Gluten free Paleo
Mediterranean Plant-based
Intermittent fasting DASH