For some people, going gluten-free is a must. This is true for those who are allergic, have an intolerance towards it, or have Celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. If someone who has gluten intolerance or allergy and ingests something with gluten — a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley — he/she may experience pain or discomfort in the abdominal area. When a person with Celiac disease eats anything with gluten, their immune system reacts by attacking the small intestine’s lining.
On the other hand, there are also those who believe that a gluten-free diet is generally healthier than one that includes gluten. In fact, it’s a widely accepted belief that avoiding gluten can help lower a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes — a condition in which the body can’t produce enough insulin, or can’t react as it should to insulin.
Because diabetes 2 happens to be one of the top causes of death in the U.S., a research team from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health led by Dr. Geng Zong decided they wanted to find out if there was any truth to the hype about a gluten-free diet being a healthier one. They particularly wanted to confirm if there was indeed a link between going gluten-free and avoiding or developing type 2 diabetes.
The research team studied surveys where almost 200,000 respondents reported what they ate. They used this data (which spanned over 3 decades) to approximate the respondents’ gluten intake, then zeroed in on those who eventually developed type 2 diabetes.
The results showed that around 16,000 of the respondents developed type 2 diabetes, and most of them ate less than 12 grams of gluten per day. Going further, they also discovered that those who ate the most gluten actually showed 13% less risk of contracting the disease.
While these figures show that there might indeed be a link between gluten consumption and diabetes risk, given the current belief about the health benefits of going gluten-free, it’s a bit surprising to find contradictory information. Specifically, it now seems that those who ate less gluten were more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than those who ate more gluten.
In other words, maybe avoiding foods like cereals, bread and pasta may actually be doing some people more harm than good. And according to Dr. Zong, it’s probably because gluten-free foods contain less fiber and micronutirients, which make them less nutritious.
The full paper detailing the research has yet to be published. But for now, one thing is clear: eating gluten doesn’t pose any health risk, except to those who are gluten-intolerant and those who have Celiac disease. Which means, if you have been avoiding gluten as a lifestyle choice, it’s the perfect time to rethink your diet.
The findings were presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association held on March 9, 2017 in Portland, Oregon.
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