June 24th, 2011
07:25 AM ET

How do I lose weight on a gluten-free diet?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Asked by Mike of Colorado

I have celiac disease (gluten intolerance), and I am wondering how to lose weight given my restrictions in my diet.

Expert answer:

Hi Mike! This is a great question. It brings up a point that I discussed in a past CNN response: A gluten-free diet is not a weight-loss diet, but rather a way of eating that is essential for people suffering from celiac disease. That's a condition in which the body reacts to a protein called gluten present in wheat and related grains, including barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale.

Some people with celiac disease do lose weight on a gluten-free diet since they are unable to eat many foods often associated with weight gain, including refined-wheat products such as pizza, bread, rolls, pasta, crackers, pretzels and baked goods, as well as many highly processed and packaged foods that contain hidden gluten. But the diet was not designed for weight loss.

There's increasing awareness and diagnosis of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, a condition in which people test negative for celiac disease but still react adversely to the ingestion of gluten. And celebrity endorsement have contributed to the rising popularity of gluten-free diets.

But processed and packaged foods - baked goods, pizza dough, pasta, gluten free snacks and breads - are showing up more and more in the marketplace. So it is important to limit your consumption of these types of foods if you have celiac disease and are trying to lose weight.

Shauna James Ahern, author of "Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef" and creator of the popular blog of the same name, explains that most gluten-free baked goods are made with white rice flour, potato starch or tapioca flour. These are all refined grains that lack nutrients but are loaded with rapidly digested carbohydrates that can lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss.

In addition, these products often contain loads of sugar to improve the taste. If you don't want to cut baked goods completely from your diet, her website contains recipes for healthier options such as whole-grain muffins and quinoa cookies as well as other delicious and healthy gluten-free meals.

But remember that just because they are gluten-free does not mean that you don't have to watch portion sizes.

In general, to lose weight, build your gluten-free, weight-loss diet around lean protein (including beans), low-fat or fat-free dairy, large amounts of a variety of vegetables, moderate amounts of fruit and gluten-free grains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat) and controlled portions of healthy fats.

If you continue to struggle losing weight despite watching your diet and exercising regularly, talk to your doctor about checking your thyroid, as an underactive thyroid can accompany celiac disease in some cases and can make it very challenging to lose weight.

Follow Dr. Jampolis on Twitter

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