The Atkins, South Beach, and even Vegan diets have all been surpassed by the latest health trend sweeping the country--the gluten-free craze. Bestselling books, celebrities, restaurant menus and grocery store displays are all touting the benefits of a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a substance found in wheat that is commonly used in breads, pastas, and many processed foods because it improves their texture and taste. In recent years though, more and more people have discovered nutritional benefits of cutting out gluten. "Gluten-free definitely has its place in some people's diets," says Kristi King, a dietician and nutrition expert with Baylor College of Medicine. "Those people that have coeliac disease, or have a medically-diagnosed gluten sensitivity."
Outside of those specific medical conditions, which are fairly rare, the health benefits of a gluten-free diet may be a little overhyped. "There is no evidence right now that shows that eating gluten-free has any sort of health benefit, unless you have a medical condition," says King. Not only are the health benefits of gluten-free overrated, but so are the weight-loss benefits. "Are you losing weight because you're gluten-free, or are you losing weight because you're reducing your calories," asks King. "My dollar bill is on you're losing weight because you're consuming less calories." King also warns that some so-called "gluten-free" foods may actually be more fattening. "Sometimes they have extra added sugar or extra added fat compared to the original version," she says.
The bottom line, according to King, is that eating gluten-free won't hurt you, but unless you have a specific medical issue, it won't necessarily help you. "We're always looking for something to blame, it's been fat, it's been sugar, and I think right now gluten is the enemy that a lot of people are looking at," says King. "In reality, we just don't have the evidence to say it's 100% the fault of the gluten."