7 Truths About Gluten and Dairy Free Diets

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gluten It never fails, that when somebody finds out that I’m a dietetic intern (5 more months until I’m official!) they unload all their nutrition related questions on me.  I love answering their questions and giving a short impromptu nutrition lesson – it’s kinda fun.  One nutrition question I’ll never forget was when this guy asked me about my opinion on the Paleo diet – which encourages the avoidance of gluten, casein and processed foods.   Instead of my opinion, I asked him why he thought it was a good idea to avoid gluten (protein found in wheat, barley and rye)  and caesin (protein found in dairy)?  I think he was somewhat startled that I actually asked him this.  I guess he expected my actual opinion…since after all, that’s what he asked for.  But he really couldn’t answer my question.  At least not with any type of information that was scientifically sound.  Or correct for that matter.

milk The Paleo diet and others that are similar tout that by avoiding gluten and dairy  you can improve your health, detox your body, burn fat and lose weight fast.  Sounds fabulous right?  Well unless you have Celiac’s disease, a gluten intolerance or a milk allergy, there is absolutely no good reason to avoid these foods.  And this is actually backed up by many reliable sources, such as the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics.   They report that these diets are appropriate only treat serious medical conditions such as Celiac’s disease and have not been proven to be safe or effective for weight loss.  Those following these types of diets may actually be doing harm.  Here’s why:

  1. People that follow a gluten-free diet are missing out on many vitamins and minerals found in grain products.  These include iron, calcium, thiamin (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Niacin (Vitamin B3) and folate.1  These nutrients all play a vital role in the functioning and maintenance of a healthy body.  As these are all water-soluble vitamins, deficiencies can creep up quickly.
  2. Gluten-free products are generally more calorie dense compared to their gluten containing counterparts.  Manufacturers add in extra sugar and fat to simulate the texture and taste that gluten provides in many foods.  And that’s extra processing.1
  3. Gluten-free foods are also lower in fiber due to their reliance on higher starch flours like potato and rice flours.  Since wheat (biggest source of gluten) is by the far the most predominant grain in the American diet, gluten-free foods contain very little fiber.  And fiber is essential to your health – it may prevent colon cancer, lower cholesterol and overall keep your GI track healthy.  Think of it as an intestinal scrub brush!
  4. The price tag on gluten-free foods is also a huge draw back.  Most gluten-free products are very expensive compared to other products.
  5. The number one issue with a casein/dairy free diet is the lack of calcium.  Dairy products are the biggest source of calcium for Americans.  It’s very difficult to get enough calcium from your diet without consuming dairy.  You can always take a supplement, but why take something processed if you can get it in its natural form?  Calcium is important obviously for bone health – we all know that.  But calcium also plays a huge role in muscle contraction and relaxation.  Without sufficient calcium you’re more susceptible to osteoporosis.
  6. Dairy products are one of the few sources of Vitamin D in the average American’s diet (aside from egg yolks and liver – yum). 2 Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and also promotes the mineralization of bone by calcium and phosphorus.  In addition, Vitamin D plays a role in immune function, cell growth and the prevention of inflammation.  Without it, you could put yourself at risk for brittle and thin bones amongst many other issues.3
  7. Avoiding both dairy products and gluten containing products will severely limit your dietary options.  There are dairy-free and gluten-free products out there, but most are highly processed and contain higher amounts of sugar and fat.  A limited and unvaried diet can lead to insufficient consumption of a whole host of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

I know that losing weight and striving for a healthier lifestyle is a huge priority for many people and is incredibly difficult to do and maintain.  But its important to understand that not all diets and weight loss plans are appropriate for everyone nor are they all safe.  The above 7 “truths” about gluten and casein free diets are intended provide you with the nutritional information behind why we need certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients in our everyday diets and how avoiding gluten and dairy may compromise your health.    Remember, the healthiest diet is one that includes all food groups and multiple foods from within each group.  A varied diet, rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy is the best tool for weight loss and a healthy lifestyle.

You tell me!  What are your thoughts on the popular gluten-free diet?  Have you ever tried going gluten-free for weight loss?  What are your tips to eat a varied diet?

1.  http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Market/Gluten-free-most-popular-approach-to-weight-loss-for-2013-but-it-doesn-t-work-say-dietitians
2.  http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
3.  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-d-deficiency/AN02182


  1. Kiersten @ Oh My Veggies

    March 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Thank you for this. I think more and more people are buying gluten-free foods not because they’re gluten-intolerant, but because they’re under the impression that gluten is unhealthy. There is SO much misinformation out there about this topic.

    • mewinebrenner

      March 1, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      I agree! It’s so important to have a varied diet! All foods fit in moderation.

  2. Tara

    August 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    What I don’t like about this is the attitude generally around anyone who is trying out gluten free or dairy free diets. So many doctors are to against anything natural or elimination diets looking at it as though its voodoo or something. I’ve gone 20 years describing my problems to so many doctors and had a variety of ‘diagnoses’ all which lead to buying expensive drugs that don’t help the problem and make you sicker. It took until I had a celiac daughter…

    • mewinebrenner

      August 15, 2013 at 9:26 am

      You’re right – many doctors will sometimes attribute general symptoms to a non nutritional related cause. That’s why it’s important to get in and see a dietitian with symptoms like yours – because we are aware that many foods and ingredients in foods can be the culprit. Any patient of mine that has symptoms like yours or any that would seem like an allergy or intolerance, the first thing on my list is an elimination diet.

      If you read over this post more carefully, you will see that it was more directed at those wishing to lose weight – without symptoms – and eliminating foods for weight loss only. Obviously if have an allergy or intolerance, you shouldn’t be consuming those foods nor would any RD or other health professional insist that you do so. Again, this post is to show those who eliminate foods or food groups for the purpose of weight loss that they could be missing out on important nutrients provided from these foods – not directed towards any person who has allergies or intolerances to foods.

  3. Grace Grayling

    August 17, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I appreciate that you’re offering a different perspective regarding paleo (believe me, I do the same!), but surely this is only relevant if the person didn’t follow a typical paleo diet. Otherwise, they would be getting plenty of fiber from fruit and vegetables, vitamin from the sun/ oily fish and b-vitamins from meat?

    While it’s not a diet I promote, surely ANY diet where you’re consuming processed crap, like refined gluten free products OR refined (isn’t this what 90% of gluten eaters consume?) white bread/pasta, will leave you nutrient deficient and low in fiber?

    Thanks for providing an article that questions! ANY dogmatic dietary approach needs to be looked at, or, I believe, it can be dangerous.

    • mewinebrenner

      August 18, 2013 at 8:45 am

      You’re right – one of the great things about the Paleo diet is the elimination of processed foods! We know our culture could definitely use a lot less of those items!

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