It may seem like everyone is going gluten-free these days. Sales of gluten-free foods have skyrocketed, and according to one survey, nearly one-third of American adults say they’re trying to reduce or avoid gluten consumption.
So should you start making a gluten-free food list for your next trip to the supermarket?
First things first: Unless you have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, you likely don’t need to avoid gluten. Talk to your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.
But there can be some benefits to adding certain gluten-free foods to your diet.
The list of naturally gluten-free foods includes nutrient-dense options like fruits, veggies, and lean protein.
And cutting back on gluten may push you to choose more whole foods and fewer processed foods, which can support your weight-loss goals.
If you’re trying to limit your gluten intake — for any reason — here are five gluten-free foods that can help with weight loss.
This creamy fruit is high in fiber, healthy fats, and potassium. Research suggests that adding half an avocado to a meal may help you feel fuller for up to five hours.
But before you go mashing an entire avocado on your toast, keep in mind that a typical serving size is one-third of a medium avocado.
Yes, avocados are packed with nutrients, but they’re also calorie-dense, so watch your portions!
Pro tip: Check out this fail-safe method for cutting avocados.
2. Whole Grains
All forms of rice are free from gluten, but if it’s health and weight loss you’re after, go for brown.
White rice is processed to remove the bran and germ, which eliminates many of the nutrients and much of the fiber. Brown rice only has the husk removed, so this grain is still packed with vitamins and minerals, plus fiber for satiety.
Brown rice is a great source of slow-release carbohydrates and is lower on the glycemic index (GI) scale than white rice.
Pro tip: Here’s the best way to cook brown rice.
Quinoa is an ancient South American grain-like crop and an excellent replacement for pasta, couscous, and even breakfast cereals.
A cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of muscle-building protein and 5 grams of filling fiber, along with vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and folate.
Despite the name, this plant is not related to wheat — it’s related to rhubarb and entirely gluten-free.
Buckwheat has a nutty flavor and can be used as an alternative to rice or quinoa, while buckwheat flour is a great gluten-free option for pancakes and the main ingredient in Japanese soba noodles.
All fresh fruits and veggies are gluten-free — yep, even potatoes! — but we’re highlighting the humble cauliflower in particular because you can sub it into so many recipes as a low-calorie grain alternative.
Cauliflower rice is super-simple to make: Cut a head of cauliflower into florets, then pulse to a rice-like consistency in a food processor.
Feeling lazy? Most supermarkets now sell cauliflower pre-riced.
And because of its relatively bland taste, cauliflower soaks up the flavors of whatever you cook it with.
It makes a great bulking agent for mashed potatoes and is ideal as a gluten-free thickening agent for sauces, soups, and gravy.
Pro tip: Find out how to make the best thing since sliced bread — cauliflower toast.
When you’re trying to lose weight, spices are a great way to add flavor without adding calories.
Herbs and spices are gluten-free — just keep in mind some seasoning blends may contain wheat flour or wheat starch, so be sure to double-check the ingredient list.
Here are a few spices that are full of flavor:
This versatile spice can lend a kick to a variety of different cuisines, including Indian, Mexican, and Thai dishes.
(Indian cuisine, in particular, is a good option for gluten-free meals since sauces are often thickened with yogurt or chickpea flour rather than wheat.)
Just check the ingredients in commercial spice mixes carefully.
This golden spice — a member of the ginger family — can be grated raw into salads and coleslaws or cooked in Indian dishes for a citrusy, earthy, peppery hit. Be warned — it will stain your fingers and work surface if you’re not careful.
If you’re buying dried turmeric, double-check the label to make sure it’s gluten-free.
Most brands are safe, but some may become cross-contaminated in factories that also produce spice mixes and other products. Dried turmeric adds a slightly less punchy flavor than the root to dahls and Indian dishes.
Pro tip: Create that Instagram favorite, golden milk, in a couple of easy steps.
This sweet spice has been used throughout history for flavoring and as an herbal medicine. Cinnamon is often found in sweet treats that contain gluten, which is a good excuse to get in the kitchen and create your own healthier alternatives — such as these easy cinnamon bananas.
Pro tip: Cinnamon is also a great substitute for sugar in your morning cup of joe.
5. Meat, Fish, Poultry, Dairy, and Eggs
When it comes to your weight loss and fitness goals, protein is essential for repairing and building muscle. It’s also more filling, takes longer to digest, and requires more energy to metabolize.
These animal sources of lean protein are all gluten-free — it’s only when sauces, toppings, and sides are added to the mix that you need to keep an eagle eye out for gluten.
How Do I Know If I Have a Gluten Intolerance?
If you think you have a problem with gluten, there are a number of symptoms to look out for.
“For the one percent of the population affected by celiac disease — a serious autoimmune disease — eating gluten damages the cells of the gut, leading to symptoms including diarrhea, weight loss, and nutrient deficiencies,” says Sarah Schenker, R.D.
Some people without celiac disease or a wheat allergy may experience digestive issues such as bloating and abdominal pain after eating gluten, Schenker adds.
This is known as “non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” but research on this is still limited.
If you’re worried you may have symptoms of celiac disease, talk to a physician.
“The only way to be sure you have celiac is to have a blood test and then biopsy done,” says Paige Bente, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. “It’s not something that is self-diagnosed with confidence.”
Can a Gluten-Free Diet Help You Lose Weight?
It might — but it depends on which gluten-free foods you choose.
“You may see some initial weight loss when going on a gluten-free diet if you switch to eating only whole, unprocessed foods,” Bente says. “But if you go to a gluten-free diet and continue to eat processed foods, you probably won’t see any difference.”
For example, if you swap regular spaghetti for zoodles, you’ll save some calories.
But merely swapping your usual cookies with gluten-free alternatives is not going to help you drop the pounds.
It’s also important to be aware that gluten-free foods can have a “health halo” effect, meaning you may assume they’re healthier simply because they say “gluten-free” on the label, Bente says.
But some gluten-free foods actually contain more calories and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts.
Still, a gluten-free diet limits your options, and that may translate to eating fewer calorific foods.
“Cakes, cookies, bread, and pasta often contain gluten, so removing them from your diet can reduce your calorie intake and result in weight loss,” Schenker says.
What Foods Do You Avoid on a Gluten-Free Diet?
Wheat flour, which contains gluten, is an ingredient in a lot of surprising foods, like seasonings and spice mixes.
If you’re trying to avoid gluten, here are some common foods that typically contain gluten:
- Wheat (including all wheat-based flours, couscous, farina, durum, and farro)
- Pasta/noodles (including egg noodles and ramen)
- Baked goods (cookies, cakes, muffins, pastries)
- Bread (including bread crumbs, croutons)
- Flour tortillas
- Sauces (including soy sauce, salad dressings, and malt vinegar)
- Soup broths
The Bottom Line
Unless you have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, gluten is not the enemy. Avoiding gluten isn’t a shortcut to peak health or weight loss.
But many naturally gluten-free goods can be part of a nutritious, balanced diet, which is a key part of a successful weight-loss plan.