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Going gluten-free has gotten a lot easier lately. Gluten-free products—everything from bagels to beer—are showing up on store shelves like never before. And consumers can’t get enough. Last year alone, Americans spent $2.6 billion on gluten-free foods, and they’re hungry for more. For those who have a true intolerance or sensitivity to gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye and barley—these foods are a blessing. But many of these products are being snapped up by those who tolerate gluten just fine, in the belief that going gluten-free is a great strategy for weight loss. And to them I say, “Buyer beware”—because gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean low calorie.
A Gluten-Free Diet Craze?
This glut of gluten-free products reminds me of the avalanche of low-carb foods that was dumped into stores at the tail end of the low-carbohydrate diet craze a few years ago. When the low-carbohydrate diet was first popular, meals consisted mainly of protein and fat, a very limited number of fruits and vegetables and not much of anything else. Staying within the day’s carbohydrate allotment was pretty easy, since food choices were so limited and calorie counting wasn’t necessary. Even with the promise that they could eat all the meat they wanted, people lost weight. But this was due, in part, because boredom set in. With so little variety, people simply ended up eating less. There’s only so much meat a person can eat at a sitting, day after day.
Not wanting to miss an opportunity, the food manufacturers went full tilt and unleashed a torrent of low-carb foods into the market—like candy bars, breads, cookies and cakes—all deemed suitable for carb watchers.
Suddenly, this limited diet became more varied than ever, and people ate up more calories than ever before. And, not surprisingly, they saw their weight start to climb. Why? They’d gotten so used to counting only carbs and not calories that they failed to notice that many of these foods, although hyped as low carbohydrate, were loaded with calories.