Can a Gluten-Free Diet Help You Lose Weight?

Though controversial, some research suggests it can

For years, celebrities have been swearing that following a gluten-free diet is the best way to lose weight. Some follow the diet because they have celiac disease and others believe it's better for their body. But does it really work?

The research is unclear on whether avoiding gluten can help you lose weight. Ultimately, what you do eat is more important than what you don't when it comes to losing pounds or maintaining a healthy weight and body mass index.

This article explains the research on a gluten-free weight loss diet for those with and without celiac disease. It also explores whether going gluten-free benefits your overall health.

'Gluten free' sign at pavement cafe
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What Is a Gluten-Free Diet?

Following a gluten-free diet requires avoiding all forms of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is a staple in bread, pasta, cereals, and various packaged foods. Less obviously, it's also found in medication and might be added into foods via flavorings or thickening agents.

People with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten and must follow a lifelong gluten-free diet to manage symptoms and avoid damage to their small intestines. Other people follow a gluten-free diet because they're sensitive to gluten. In other cases, people might go gluten-free because they find that avoiding gluten helps ease symptoms related to a wide range of other disorders from irritable bowel syndrome to eczema.

However, there's little proof that a gluten-free diet benefits anyone other than those with specific gluten-related diseases.

Gluten-Free Diet and Weight Gain

While there are many stories about gluten-free diets being the ultimate path to a slim body, you may experience the opposite when you stop eating gluten. This is especially true for those who have celiac disease.

With celiac disease, gluten damages your digestive system and prevents you from absorbing nutrients in food. Once you cut out the gluten, your body will heal and you'll be able to absorb those nutrients. That is very, very good for your overall health. However, it may also mean you'll start gaining weight.

To prevent too much weight gain, consider the following:

  • Portion size: You may have gotten used to eating large portions because it didn't affect your weight with the lack of absorption. Consider how you can reduce your overall portions.
  • Food choice: If you're used to eating carbohydrates that are now off limits, you might be turning to more high-fat foods for satisfaction. While fats are important, you may want to choose low-fat foods to help you maintain or lose weight.
  • Hidden sugar: Many packaged foods and even homemade recipes make up for the loss of gluten by adding sweetness. The result can be excessive amounts of sugar and, as a result, calories. Check labels and recipes and look for ways to reduce sugar intake.
  • Exercise: Adding light exercise can help you control your weight, and exercise offers overall health benefits.

Risk of Metabolic Disease

In addition to weight gain, people with celiac disease who follow a gluten-free diet need to be aware that eating gluten-free may put them at risk for metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of conditions that increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart problems.

Further research is needed to understand the connection between a gluten-free diet and metabolic syndrome, but it's a point you should discuss with your healthcare provider.

Gluten-Free Diet and Weight Loss

Not everyone who follows a gluten-free diet has celiac disease or even non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Research shows that those people may have more success with weight loss on a gluten-free diet.

In addition to losing pounds, non-celiac individuals reduce their waist circumference. This measurement is important because weight gain around the belly is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

Effects of Healthier Eating

While researchers have seen a clear connection between a gluten-free diet and weight loss for non-celiac individuals, the reason for the weight loss is unclear. Swapping out gluten-containing food for gluten-free options would not affect your weight directly.

Some experts believe that the effect is due to people eating healthier overall. Those committed to a gluten-free diet (even when there's no medical need) may be highly self-motivated to watch what they eat. In addition to avoiding gluten, these individuals may be avoiding high-calorie foods and limiting their fat and calorie intake. Those actions could be the reason for the high rates of weight loss. In other words, those people might lose weight even if they ate gluten-containing foods because they would still be eating healthier.

Are Gluten-Free Foods Healthy?

While maintaining a healthy weight is important to your overall well-being, it's not the only factor. The food you eat needs to be nutritious and support your target weight.

Naturally gluten-free foods include fruits and vegetables as well as lean meat and protein. A diet centered on these foods can be healthy and nutritionally rich.

However, gluten-free foods can also include high-fat and fried foods and a host of processed foods designed to be gluten-free and loaded with calories that can cause you to gain weight.

Focusing exclusively on avoiding gluten can also cause you to miss the necessary nutritional elements. Researchers have found that products used to replace gluten-containing foods often lack essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12
  • Folate
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

At the same time, processed gluten-free products tend to have high levels of saturated fat and hydrogenated fatty acids (which act like saturated fat in your body). Too much of any fat can lead to weight gain, but saturated fat brings additional health concerns because it may increase your risk of heart disease.

Gluten-Free Diet and Diabetes

Studies have shown that gluten-free foods tend to have a higher glycemic index (GI) rating and glycemic load (GL) compared to gluten-containing food. These two measures are used to estimate how food affects your blood sugar. Higher GI and GL means a food could cause problems for people with diabetes.

Talk to your healthcare provider about how you can effectively manage your blood sugar on a gluten-free diet.

A challenge facing people trying to eat gluten-free is the growing number of gluten-free processed foods and snacks that are now available. Healthcare providers believe that these convenient, less nutritious, high-calorie foods may be creating a trend in which those eating gluten-free diet, especially teens with celiac disease, are more t risk for weight gain and a higher BMI.


On a gluten-free diet, you cannot eat any foods that contain gluten. While many claim cutting out these foods leads to significant weight loss, the only proven benefit of a gluten-free diet is that it helps heal intestinal damage related to celiac disease. This allows those with celiac disease to absorb nutrients from food, which improves their overall health. It also often results in weight gain.

However, people who do not have celiac disease have been shown to lose weight and reduce abdominal fat when they follow a gluten-free diet. The reason for this is unclear. One theory is that those following this difficult diet are more likely to make the effort to eat healthy in a way that promotes weight loss. This diet happens to avoid gluten, but that may not be why it's successful.

Gluten-free diets do put you at risk for health complications if you give up vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients to cut gluten. These diets can also be high in calories and fat, especially if you eat mostly the processed gluten-free foods that have flooded grocery store shelves.

A Word From Verywell

Do you want to cut out gluten because you've been diagnosed with a gluten-related disorder or suspect that gluten may be contributing to health problems? Or do you think going gluten-free could help you shed some extra weight like celebrities? Whatever your motivation, before you make a gluten-free weight loss plan, talk to your healthcare provider and consider talking with a nutritionist.

To make gluten-free eating enjoyable, satisfying, and healthy, it helps to understand how to choose the right foods and cook delicious gluten-free meals on your own. Knowing how to avoid high-fat and high-calorie foods while ensuring you get enough fiber and other nutrients will allow you to enjoy all the benefits of gluten-free weight loss programs and protect you from weight gain and health problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens to your body when you stop eating gluten?

    If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, problems caused by eating gluten should go away once you cut it out of your diet. These include:

    • Abdominal pain
    • Abdominal distension
    • Excessive gas
    • Diarrhea or constipation
    • Fatigue
    • Leg pain
    • Headache
    • Rash
    • Mood issues
  • Do potatoes have gluten?

    No. Potatoes themselves do not contain gluten. However, some recipes for preparing potatoes may include food or additives that have gluten, so look over labels for all recipe ingredients and packaged foods.

  • What is "wheat belly"?

    The term "wheat belly" has been used by people who believe that eating food with gluten (such as wheat) causes excessive bloating and weight gain around the abdomen. They propose a gluten-free diet to avoid or reverse weight gain. However, there's no proof that eating gluten or wheat contributes to abdominal weight gain.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.