Low gluten or gluten-free diets are a necessity for those suffering from Celiac disease or who are gluten intolerant. But low gluten diets are also followed by many people who do not have these diseases simply because they think it may be healthier for them. But is it healthier? Two recent studies raise health concerns about low gluten or gluten-free diets. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
The first study found that people who eat a low gluten or gluten-free diet are at risk for increased exposure to arsenic and mercury (which are toxic metals that can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurological effects). This is because gluten-free products often contain rice flour, which is used as a substitute for wheat. Rice is known to bioaccumulate certain toxic metals, including arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil, or water. People who reported eating gluten-free had higher concentrations of arsenic in their urine, and mercury in their blood, than those who did not. The arsenic levels were almost twice as high for people eating a gluten-free diet, and mercury levels were 70 percent higher. Unfortunately the U.S. does not have regulations for arsenic exposure in foods (but Europe does).
The second study found that a low-gluten diet may raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. Diets higher in gluten were associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In the study, those who ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fiber which is known to be protective against developing type 2 diabetes.
From Science Daily: Gluten-free diet may increase risk of arsenic, mercury exposure
People who eat a gluten-free diet may be at risk for increased exposure to arsenic and mercury -- toxic metals that can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurological effects, according to a report in the journal Epidemiology. Gluten-free diets have become popular in the U.S., although less than 1 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease -- an out-of-control immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. A gluten-free diet is recommended for people with celiac disease, but others often say they prefer eating gluten-free because it reduces inflammation -- a claim that has not been scientifically proven. In 2015, one-quarter of Americans reported eating gluten-free, a 67 percent increase from 2013.
They found 73 participants who reported eating a gluten-free diet among the 7,471 who completed the survey, between 2009 and 2014. Participants ranged in age from 6 to 80 years old. People who reported eating gluten-free had higher concentrations of arsenic in their urine, and mercury in their blood, than those who did not. The arsenic levels were almost twice as high for people eating a gluten-free diet, and mercury levels were 70 percent higher.
For Science Daily: Low gluten diets linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes
Eating more gluten may be associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention / Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions....In this long-term observational study, researchers found that most participants had gluten intake below 12 grams/day, and within this range, those who ate the most gluten had lower Type 2 diabetes risk during thirty years of follow-up. Study participants who ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fiber, a known protective factor for Type 2 diabetes development.
After further accounting for the potential effect of cereal fiber, individuals in the highest 20 percent of gluten consumption had a 13 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in comparison to those with the lowest daily gluten consumption (approximately fewer than 4 grams).