Can gluten lead to weight gain? A health writer looks at the evidence that links gluten to obesity, and shares her findings. 

At a recent dinner party, the hostess announced she had stopped serving rotis in her home, since she learned that wheatflour contained gluten- which was very, very bad for the health. “It causes bloating and lethargy,” she emphasised. “That’s why I’ve put on so much weight.”

Her remark surprised me. Though the link between carbohydrates and weight gain was one I knew about, the idea that some ingredient in a lone roti could cause the kilos to pile on, was perplexing.

Wrong information making the rounds

The trouble is that myths about gluten are rampant.  This is blamed for all sorts of ailments- from headaches to hormonal disruption and weight gain.  But can this natural-occurring protein really cause all these problems? Are advocates of the gluten free diet 100 percent sure that gluten is a bad guy? The answer is NO.

The thing is, gluten is a type of protein naturally found in wheat and other grains, like barley and rye. It’s a healthy substance. Aside from breads and cereals, gluten is also added to certain packaged foods such as salad dressings and seasoning mixes. Unless you are physically allergic to this substance, it won’t harm you.

Regarded as a culprit

For some years now, the lens has been on gluten. Eating “gluten free” products has become a fashion statement. Gluten has become the new culprit in weight loss circles, and “gluten free” diets have taken the place of “carb free” diets.

The market for gluten free products has flourished, as a result. High end grocery shops in town have entire sections of gluten free products.  Gluten free flour has found a place in every fashionista’s kitchen.

Bakeries sell gluten free cookies and cakes at astronomical prices! Eateries have jumped onto the gluten free bandwagon, and added all kinds of gluten free foods to their menus.

Truths about gluten

#1 The anti gluten movement is mostly led by a handful of people who have been brainwashed by stories they hear from friends, or fitness gurus who make a living out of pushing such fads. The link between gluten and weight gain is also purely anecdotal. There’s no medical evidence to support the link between gluten and weight gain.

#2 The only people who absolutely must avoid gluten are those with gluten allergy or Celiac Disease – who can’t digest gluten and develop all kinds of symptoms when they ingest it.  “People with gluten intolerance and Celiac disease need to stay away from all foods containing this ingredient,” says Neelanjana Singh, Nutrition Consultant, Heinz Nutri Life Clinic, New Delhi.

#3 But this is not true for others. There is no scientific proof to support any other theory that gluten directly causes health problems in the other 99 percent of those who complain. So blame your weight gain on something else. Maybe it’s the butter chicken you really can’t resist?