Many foods that contain gluten are good sources of fiber, like whole wheat bread and pasta. Rice and quinoa pasta don’t have much fiber compared to whole-grain kinds. And given that most Americans are getting way less fiber than they need, eliminating these common sources can make it even more difficult to get your fill. A lack of dietary fiber has been linked to chronic constipation, diabetes, and heart disease, so be sure to load up on naturally gluten-free sources like beans, produce, and quinoa to avoid those health pitfalls.
So what can you actually expect to happen if you give up gluten? Here’s what.
1.You probably won’t lose weight.
Gluten-free doesn’t equal calorie-free. In fact, many gluten-free versions of foods contain more calories, more fat, more sugar, and more sodium than their gluten-ous counterparts to make up for the change in taste and texture that occurs when wheat is removed. Also, believing a gluten-free food is good for you may incline you to eat more of it—to your waist’s detriment. If you’re giving up gluten, focus on adding more fruits, vegetables, and lean meats to your diet instead of replacing gluten-containing foods with gluten-free versions of the same processed products.
2.Your grocery bill may go up.
Your wallet might be the first place you feel the effects of a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free products such as pretzels, pasta, cookies, and crackers cost two to three times more, on average, than their wheat-based counterparts. Gluten-free foods are more expensive to make because they use special grains, and manufacturers have to follow specific procedures to avoid cross-contamination.
3.Your tummy may hurt.
More than 90% of Americans fall short of meeting the recommended daily amount when it comes to fiber (25 g for women, 38 g for men), according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Grain-based foods account for about 44% of Americans’ already meager fiber intake. Choosing gluten-free foods can substantially slash the amount of fiber you’re consuming. Where it’s likely to take its toll: your gut. Fiber feeds our microbiome. Intestinal bacteria feast on fiber and produce a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. Butyrate keeps the intestines healthy and functional, so when there’s not enough of it you’re more susceptible to developing inflammation in the gut, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach cramping, and more. Beans, legumes, vegetables, and brown rice are all good gluten-free fiber sources.
4.You’ll consume a lot more arsenic.
When manufacturers remove gluten-containing ingredients like wheat, they often replace them with a gluten-free grain like rice. The problem is that rice is a major source of inorganic arsenic, a mineral found in soil, fertilizer, and water that can contribute to lung cancer, bladder cancer, skin cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, according to data from Consumer Reports. Spanish researchers found that following a gluten-free diet significantly increases the amount of arsenic that people consume.
5.You might end up with cravings.
There’s no scientific evidence that a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight. If you are avoiding gluten in an effort to lose weight, or are restricting it without medical necessity, you will likely see the effects that all diets eventually cause: food preoccupation, feelings of guilt around food, food cravings, and overeating. It’s not necessarily the lack of gluten but the fact that you’re restricting yourself that can cause your body to switch into survival mode, leading to uncontrollable cravings, overeating, and binges.