When Gluten Intolerance Causes Weight Gain…Eat Gluten Free Healthy!


Gluten intolerance or Celiac disease is where a person cannot tolerate gluten, a protein that is found in barley, rye, and wheat.  If a person who suffers from gluten intolerance eats gluten, the lining of that person’s intestine becomes damaged and inflamed from the gluten.  This can lead to difficulty in absorbing nutrients, which can lead to the loss of weight and malnutrition.  Those battling gluten intolerance also have other serious symptoms, including bloating, stomach upset, stomach pain, and diarrhea.1

It is also challenging for doctors to correctly diagnose gluten intolerance, as it is often mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome or another similar disease.  That is why it sometimes takes years for a patient who has gluten intolerance to be correctly diagnosed, which can delay proper treatment of this condition.

What Causes Gluten Intolerance?

No one knows for sure what causes gluten intolerance thought it’s one of the most common health problems. It is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine and causes intestinal inflammation.2 There is actually a spectrum of gluten sensitivity. At one end is gluten sensitivity where the body doesn’t react well to foods containing gluten, but the villi in the intestines are not damaged. However, since the food makes you feel sick, the sensitivity can impact your ability to eat a balanced diet.

At the other end of the spectrum is the genetic intolerance called Celiac disease. When you have Celiac disease, your immune system leads to a flattening of intestinal villi. Since the villi are how digested nutrients enter the blood stream for delivery to the organs, the flattening can lead to poor nutrient absorption. While the exact cause of Celiac disease is unknown, there are certain risk factors. If a first degree relative has the disease, then you are more likely to have it. If you had gluten containing foods introduced early as an infant, you are more likely to get Celiac diease.

A Gluten-Free Diet Can Avoid the Complications of Gluten Intolerance

Those who suffer from gluten intolerance try their best to avoid all foods with gluten in them, but therein lays the challenge.  There are many known foods that have gluten, such as bread and pasta, but there are also many foods that one would never guess have gluten in them, such as salad dressings, cold cuts, and even licorice.  A serving of something that is not expected of having gluten in it, but that in fact does, can cause serious complications to your health if you suffer from gluten intolerance.

Many people dealing with gluten intolerance have turned to a gluten-free diet as the only way to manage the disease.  This means that all foods included in this diet either have no gluten in it or a very tiny amount that will not trigger symptoms within people dealing with gluten intolerance.  A gluten-free diet is the only medically accepted treatment for gluten intolerance.

People dealing with gluten intolerance may have to limit their diets of other grains that don’t contain gluten, such as oats, if those oats and other grains are processed in milling facilities that also process grains that do have gluten in them, such as wheat or triticale.

Still, people dealing with gluten intolerance can have many types of grains and starches in their diets without the fear of ingesting gluten.  These sources include the following foods:

  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Chia seed
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Montina
  • Lupin
  • Potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Tapioca
  • Taro
  • Teff
  • Yam

To add needed dietary fiber and protein, nut flours, soybean, and bean are often added to gluten-free products.

What makes it even more challenging for people dealing with gluten intolerance to avoid eating gluten is that it is sometimes used in the processing of some foods, including ketchup and ice cream.  Yet, it is not included in the ingredients lists on these products because gluten is not actually an ingredient that is used to flavor the product, but just used to help formulate the product.

Are Oats Gluten-Free or Not?

A major debate continues on whether oats are gluten-free or not.  The truth is that oats do not have the same types of proteins that rye, wheat, and barley do.  These grains are known to have gluten in them.  Yet, up until recently, many celiac disease societies and medical centers advised people dealing with gluten intolerance to not eat oats.

The prevailing thought today is, oats themselves don’t have gluten in them, but they are usually processed along with grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, thereby cross-contaminating the oats with gluten.  As a result, most Celiac disease societies and medical centers suggest that a limited amount of gluten-free oats is likely acceptable to be added to a gluten-intolerant person’s diet.

It’s easier for people dealing with gluten intolerance to add gluten-free oats to their diets today because pure oats are more readily available.  In the past, oats were harvested and milled alongside oats and barley, leading to cross-contamination.  Now, there are some fields that are dedicated to growing only oats, thereby making these oats gluten-free and acceptable for gluten-intolerant people to add them to their diets for their health benefits and for additional variety in their diets.

Gluten Intolerance Can Be Managed With the Proper Gluten-Free Diet

One of the problems facing gluten intolerant people is weight gain after going on a gluten free diet. Some weight gain is often good because the poor nutrient absorption led to unhealthy weight loss. People on gluten free diets may be tempted to eat a lot of corn and potatoes or rice and high sugar foods. Next thing you know, weight has ballooned out of control.

If you have gluten intolerance and switch to a gluten free diet, you will have to learn how to choose high protein, low glycemic foods to manage your weight. It’s almost important to eat plenty of foods with calcium, iron, and fiber because these are the nutrients most often deficient in people with gluten intolerance.3

The key for people dealing with gluten intolerance is to ensure that they are avoiding gluten in their diets.  This includes products that only use gluten in their production and not in their taste.  These products aren’t always easy to determine, but can be determined through careful research.  By ensuring that you are avoiding gluten in the foods that you eat, you can manage gluten intolerance and live a relatively normal life.


1 Celiac disease – sprue (2011) Retrieved from MedlinePlus – National Institutes of Health: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000233.htm

2 Shan,Lu;Øyvind Molberg; Isabelle Parrot, et. al. (2002 September 27) Structural Basis for Gluten Intolerance in Celiac Sprue. Science, v. 297 (5590), pp. 2275-2279.

3 Thompson, M. Dennis; L.A. Higgins; A. R. Lee; M. K. Sharrett. (2005 May 9) Gluten-free diet survey: are Americans with coeliac disease consuming recommended amounts of fibre, iron, calcium and grain foods? Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, v 18 (3), pp. 163-169.


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