Young adults that go gluten-free are more likely to purge and smoke

Eating gluten-free has been linked to an unhealthy obsession with controlling weight, a new study has shown.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota say that those who regularly eat gluten-free foods are more likely to purge, smoke and have bad body images.

Gluten-free diets have become more popular in the last several years, many believing that avoiding breads, pasta and pastries helps to boost energy and lose weight.

But the researchers say that those who don’t have a wheat sensitivity – but choose to avoid gluten anyway – could actually be depriving their bodies of several nutrients needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Young adults who regularly eat gluten-free foods are more likely to purge, smoke and have bad body images, according to a new study from the University of Minnesota

For the study, the researchers looked at more than 1,800 adults between the ages of 25 and 36.

About 13 percent of them ‘valued’ gluten-free food, meaning they regularly consumed these foods.

The researchers found that these participants were three times more likely to have an unhealthy concern over their weight and use unhealthy methods to control it including purging, smoking and taking diet pills.

However, there were some benefits to eating a gluten-free diet. Results showed that this group was more likely to eat breakfast daily and consume more fruits and vegetables. 


Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.

These attacks damage the villi, small finger-like projections that line the small intestine that promote nutrient absorption.

It is estimated to affect one in 100 people worldwide. 

One percent – or three million Americans – are living with celiac disease.

There are more than 200 symptoms of celiac disease but the more common ones are:

  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue 

The only treatment for the disease and is a strict gluten-free diet. 

Only foods and beverages with a gluten content less than 20 parts per million are allowed.

 Source: Celiac Disease Foundation

‘Eating gluten-free may be viewed as a “socially acceptable way” to restrict intake that may not be beneficial for overall health,’ said lead investigator Dr Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, a professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota.

In the last few years, grocery stores and supermarkets have become full of gluten-free products and many restaurants have taken to offering gluten-free options.

Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley.

Those who have celiac disease – about 0.7 to one percent of the US population – have a severe form of gluten intolerance.

The immune system attacks gluten and the lining of the gut when those with the disease consume it, causing nutrient deficiencies and digestive issues.

However, many believe switching to a gluten-free diet will help them boost energy, lose weight and feel healthier.

In 2015, gluten-free alternatives brought in $1.6 billion in sales, although the majority of the consumers were not gluten-free for medical purposes. 

But scientists insist that those without a sensitivity to wheat will not receive any health benefits.

In fact, eating whole grains is linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and other chronic diseases. 

Additionally, breads made with gluten-free flours are generally not fortified with vitamins, leading to a deficiency of B vitamins.

Dr Neumark-Sztainer advises that people should eat gluten-free only if they medically need to.

 ‘Otherwise, a dietary pattern that includes a variety of foods, with a large emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, is recommended for optimal health,’ she said.