Gluten-free diets have soared in popularity in recent years. But, shunning gluten has no heart benefits for people without celiac disease, and it may mean consuming a diet lacking heart-healthy whole grains, according to the quarter-century study.
“For the vast majority of people who can tolerate it, restricting gluten to improve your overall health is likely not to be a beneficial strategy,” said study leader Dr. Andrew Chan.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. People with celiac disease – less than 1% of the U.S. population – have an immune system reaction when they eat gluten, triggering inflammation and intestinal damage. They also have an increased risk of heart disease, but that declines after they begin eating a gluten-free diet.
Recently, researchers have reported that some people may have what’s known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition that’s not totally understood. “I don’t what to dismiss the fact that there are people who have the sensitivity,” said Chan, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. But, the rest of the population should not think that going gluten-free will help their health – at least not their heart health, he said.
For the study, Chan and his colleagues analyzed data on nearly 65,000 women and more than 45,000 men, all U.S health professionals without a history of heart disease when the study started. The study participants completed a detailed food questionnaire beginning in 1986 and updated it every four years until 2010.
The researchers looked at gluten intake, dividing participants into five groups from low to high, then calculated how likely they were to develop heart disease over roughly 26 years. When the researchers compared the highest-intake gluten group with the lowest, the rates of heart disease were not very different.
However, people with restricted gluten intake often eat a diet low in fiber-rich whole grains – which are tied to lower heart risk – and higher in refined grains, Chan said. So, the researchers then adjusted their findings for intake of refined grains. “It appeared that those individuals who consumed the lowest levels of dietary gluten had a 15% higher risk of heart disease,” Chan said.
The study had no food industry funding. It was published online May 2 in BMJ.
We all have gluten sensitivity, just to lessor or greater degrees. That is because the gluten content in wheat alone has increased 400% since the 1960’s. Wheat is the number one food sensitivity in the world followed by dairy, soy and corn. That’s because these foods are in virtually all processed foods.
The problem with gluten-free is what do we substitute? This study really showed that refined grains increase the rate of heart disease. Unfortunately, too often people replace whole grains with refined grains when going gluten-free.
I often tell my patients that being a vegetarian is not about avoiding animal foods. It’s about the quality of the plant food you eat. Of course, that is true for all diets.
The Bottom Line:
Regardless of what kind of diet you follow – gluten-free, paleo, Mediterranean, vegetarian, zone, or South beach – it is all about the quality of the plant food you eat. I recommend 5 vegetable servings per day and 2 fruit servings. Eat at least 50% of the plants raw (think salad) and make sure there is lots of different colors to your plant food. That insures a variety of micronutrients. Cook the cruciferous vegetables, as they are goitrogens (suppress the thyroid) when raw.
Source: Eating Gluten-Free Without a Medical Reason?