Several years ago we published some information about gluten sensitivity. We discussed who might benefit from decreasing gluten in their diet, and who must totally cut it out. People who have celiac disease must completely avoid this protein, but this disease affects at most 1% of the population.
We commonly see food labels like “Does not contain gluten”. It’s almost become a trendy thing, and many people believe that foods without must be healthier. Recent consumer surveys show that up to 30% of adults are trying to decrease this substance in their diet. But is this really helping them, or could be causing more harm than good?
Several large research studies have been published very recently suggesting that cutting down on this food component, by those who don’t have a good health reason to do so, might be causing themselves more harm than good. Some details:
What is gluten?
A protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye, and in many processed foods. Gluten adds elasticity and a chewy texture to baked goods.
Who should avoid gluten?
People with celiac disease should not eat it at all. In the last few years, another condition has been described as “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”. These people have less serious symptoms than people with celiac disease, but still, cutting down on intake of this protein helps decrease their symptoms.
What are the new concerns about avoiding gluten?
The first study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that people who decrease intake, but don’t really need to, may be increasing their risk of heart disease. The reason is that cutting this protein usually means severely cutting down on fiber in food as well. Fiber, especially that found in whole grains, helps cut the risk of heart disease and stroke. Foods high in fiber also fill us up better, which helps us control our weight.
So, people who cut down on gluten may be not getting enough fiber, giving them a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Further, they may be depriving themselves of the nutrients and vitamins (especially B vitamins) found in foods with gluten.
The other study, presented at a recent meeting of the American Heart Association, involved nearly 200,000 participants. The results showed that the people who ate MORE gluten had a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The reason again seems to be the the lack of fiber in a low-gluten diet. High fiber intake cuts the risk of diabetes, as well as of heart disease and stroke.
Are there any other problems with a low-gluten diet?
Research suggests that many people on a low gluten diet, may compensate for the lack of this component by increasing their intake of sugar and fat. Low-gluten foods almost always cost more, and may not taste as good. A further issue, recently discovered, is many gluten-free foods use rice bran as a substitute. Rice may contain too much arsenic, and we will discuss this potential problem in our next post.
So what should I do?
If you have celiac disease, you must cut this protein out of your diet, and make sure you get adequate fiber from other sources, as well as adequate vitamins and nutrients. If you are not sure, the best thing is to consult a nutrologist, nutritionist, or a medical doctor, preferably a gastroenterologist. It is a complex and individual topic, and you will benefit from a health professional with a good knowledge of this subject.
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