Does Gluten Make You Fat?

Podcast Episode #006: Does Gluten Make You Fat?

Does gluten really make you fat? This is quite a hotly debated topic these days so I'd like to clear up some common misunderstandings and offer some practical advice for you to follow. Here's how to deal with gluten once and for all!

Does Gluten Make You Fat? [Full Text]

Today we have a really great question from Dallas in London, Ontario. Let's dive right in.

"A couple of my coworkers have been on gluten-free diets for awhile, and they both have lost a lot of weight. I've heard mixed reviews about going gluten-free, and was wondering how safe it is. Does it work for most people? Does gluten really make people fat?"

Dallas, thanks for the question, this is an excellent one that I get asked fairly frequently. Let's start off by talking really quickly about what gluten is. Gluten is simply a protein found in many grain products, so primarily wheat, but also barley and rye, and many others.

For some people, those suffering from celiac disease, when they eat anything that includes gluten, it is quite dangerous. For those people, their body sees gluten as a foreign invader, and so it goes and actually attacks the gluten when it's in the digestive tract.

The problem with this, is it actually damages the intestinal walls as well when it's trying to fight off this invader that's really just gluten, and this leads to all kinds of different symptoms, including fatigue, anemia, nutrient deficiencies, and just a digestive system that isn't operating very well.

It's estimated that about 1 to 1.5% of the population in North America suffers from celiac disease, but this is increasing, and there's probably a lot of people out there who do have celiac disease and haven't been identified yet.

Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Intolerance

What about eating gluten for people who don't have celiac disease? There's something called gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity, and for people that have an intolerance or a sensitivity, they have symptoms when they eat gluten, but they're not actually allergic to it, or they don't have the actual full blown celiac disease. Their body doesn't attack it in the same way that someone who has celiac would, but they still have a reaction to it.

The really tricky thing about gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity, is that the reaction, or those symptoms don't necessarily manifest immediately after eating a glutinous food.

For example, you could eat a sandwich on wheat bread today at lunch, and the symptoms, whether it be bloating, gassiness, or just an upset stomach, or fatigue, any of those symptoms, might not show up for up to 36 hours later, which, as you can imagine, becomes very problematic, because it becomes hard to identify that the gluten was actually the problem that's causing those symptoms.

It's estimated that about 6 to 8 percent of the population has some level of gluten sensitivity, but again, it's very hard to diagnose, and some experts would say the actual number is much more than that, but people just don't know it.

They're living with all these digestive issues and don't know that it's related to the gluten that they're eating!

What About Gluten For Everyone Else?

There's also an argument against eating gluten for even those people who aren't diagnosed as having a sensitivity or an intolerance. 

The argument suggests that gluten, or glutinous products have been genetically modified so much over the years, that the gluten that we're eating today is vastly different from the gluten that would have been included, for example, in wheat products 50, 60, 70 years ago, and because of those modifications, it's said that gluten can cause inflammation in our digestive system.

Inflammation causes very similar symptoms, or very similar problems as gluten would for those people who are, quote end quote, diagnosed with an intolerance, or a sensitivity.

Inflammation in the digestive system can cause other nutrients to not be digested properly, and typically that leads to fatigue, constant hunger, and then weight gain. A few years ago, I was at a friend's cottage, and we took turns making meals for everyone who was there. 

One meal was a spaghetti dinner, and I'm just going to say, I love glutinous products. I love grain products, I love pasta, I love breads, and so we had this spaghetti dinner, and it was after a very high activity day. We had been very busy that day, and I was starving. I ended up eating 2 big plates of this spaghetti.

Within about 30 minutes of that meal, my stomach expanded. It felt like someone had poured cement down my throat, and it just filled up my stomach and made it rock hard. At the same time, as you can probably imagine, I got very gassy, and then the thing that I really noticed was how fatigued I got. This was still early in the day, maybe around 6pm, and I was instantly ready to go to sleep.

There was definitely a direct link between that spaghetti dinner, and how I was feeling afterwards, and I've seen this with many of the clients I've worked with...

My Clients' Experiences

When they cut gluten out of their diet, or cut many grain products out of their diet, their energy goes through the roof, they feel better, and they start to lose weight. The question becomes, is it really the gluten, or is it something else? What's really happening here? I can show you 10 different studies and 5 of them would say, "Gluten is the worst thing, we should never eat it, cut it out of your diet," and 5 others would say, "Gluten's okay, it's overblown. Most people are fine eating gluten."

Whether or not gluten is the thing that we should be cutting out of our diet, I'd like to suggest 3 reasons why eliminating, or at least reducing so many processed grains from our diet, is something that most people should consider.

Why Eliminating Processed Grains Is Important

First off, highly processed grains are usually extremely high on the glycemic index, and the glycemic index basically just measures foods and how quickly our body turns those into blood sugar. It bases it on a 100 point scale, and a 100 is actually just glucose, it's sugar, so when we ingest sugar, it's obviously very quickly turned into blood sugar.

#1. Processed Grains and the Glycemic Index

Foods that are higher on the scale, they're generally ones that we want to stay away from, and here's why. When we eat something that's high on the glycemic index, our body coverts it quickly into blood sugar, but then this extra sugar in our blood needs to be dealt with, and if we're being highly active, that blood sugar can be used for energy, so it can go to our muscles and it can be used for movement. If we're not being active, the blood sugar needs to go somewhere, and it's stored as fat. Generally speaking, processed grains are high on the glycemic index.

For example, if you take a baguette, so white bread, it rates at a 95 on the glycemic index, just below sugar. Imagine the impact of eating a sandwich made on white bread, our blood sugar goes through the roof, and all of the sudden the body needs to do something with it, and we start storing fat.

In the show notes for this podcast, I'm going to include a chart that compares pretty much every single food on the glycemic index, so you can take a look through there and see some of the foods that you maybe typically eat, and start to get an idea of how quickly those are converting to blood sugar, and are those ones that maybe you want to rethink.

Pay special attention to those processed grains, and you'll see a pretty clear trend. Many processed grain products are high on that glycemic index scale.

#2. Processed Grains are High in Calories, Low in Nutrients

Most processed grain products are relatively high in calories, and relatively low in nutritional value. Going back top the glycemic index, not all grain products are really high on the glycemic index scale.

An example would be a whole wheat tortilla, it gets a rating of about a 30 on the glycemic index. Compare that whole wheat tortilla to a sweet potato. A sweet potato is given a 70 on the glycemic index, so if you just go by glycemic index, whole wheat tortilla at a 30, a sweet potato at 70, which do you choose?

It seems like the whole wheat tortilla is the better choice, but vegetables, even those that are higher on the glycemic index, tend to come with a whole lot more nutritional value than those processed grain products. Using our example of a sweet potato, a sweet potato, even though it's a glycemic index 70, it has so much vitamin, and so much nutrient content.

For example, vitamin A, we get about 214% of our daily recommended intake for vitamin A from one sweet potato. We'll never get that from a processed grain product, and remember, your body wants nutrients. It doesn't actually want food, so when we eat foods that are high in nutrient content, the chance of our body having cravings for more, really is drastically reduced.

#3. The Addictive Nature of Processed Grains

The third reason I suggest that reducing or eliminating so many processed grain products, is the fact that they're highly addictive. Just like sugar, when we eat many processed grain products, we get this rush, we feel good, but because there's low nutrient content in those foods, that rush doesn't last very long, and we experience a crash.

You can imagine how this quickly turns into a vicious cycle. We east a grain product, we get this blood sugar rush, we feel great, a crash happens, we crave more food. We go back to grain-based products, get the rush, and so on and so on. As I mentioned before, generally speaking, grain products are relatively high in calories, low in nutrients, so as we go through this cycle, we're ingesting a huge amount of calories, but they're really never satisfying our body's desires for high nutrient content food.

Your "10 in 4" Takeaway

So, for your 10 in 4 takeaway for today...The question was, "Will gluten make me fat?" Like I said, there's tons of research that says "Yes," and there's tons of research that says, "No." The thing to remember is, gluten comes in processed grain products, and those processed grain products, like we just discussed, generally aren't the best foods for people to eat, particularly if you're looking to lose weight.

I have 2 challenges for you this week. The first one is to food journal. Food journal for at least 3 days, and you probably hear me talking about the value of food journaling, and that's simply because it works. It's so good at revealing deficiencies in our diets, and things that we can change in our lifestyle to get the results we're looking for. Food journal for at least 3 days. My ideal would be 7, but for at least 3 days, and take a look back at that journal and identify, maybe go through and circle, all of the different grain products that you've eaten.

What we're looking of here, is just to highlight, what is our reliance on grain products? The second thing I'd like you to do while you're food journaling, is to make some notes about how your body feels.

You might start to notice some connections between eating grains, and some of those symptoms that are commonly associated with glutinous products, but also processed grain products in general. Did you feel bloated? Did you feel gassy? Were you fatigued? Did you have an upset stomach? What are you feeling after eating those foods?

If you're looking to lose weight, and after food journaling you notice that your diet's really filled with grain products, that's probably a great place to start.

Replacing some of those processed grains with more vegetables, maybe some fruit, or maybe even some grains that aren't as heavily processed. For example, quinoa, or steel cut oats. Those can go a long way in helping you get those weight-loss results you're looking for, and if you notice a connection between eating grain products and not feeling well after, there's added motivation to make some changes in your diet.

Thanks for joining me today!