Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that there are droves of people adopting gluten-free diets regardless of whether they have celiac disease or not. Some of them are legit and don't make it a ~thing~. But, let's be honest, you probably know one gluten-free diva who talks about her eating habits nonstop. They get a little preachy whenever someone asks why they won't eat a slice of pizza and gluten-shame you for the pre-entrée bread you're loading up on at dinner (even if they're one of the many gluten-free dieters who don't even know what gluten is, anyway). If all this gluten hype has you wondering "should I ditch the G-word?" you need to hear what science has to say.
New research shows that going gluten-free (if you're not affected by celiac disease) can actually be more harmful than beneficial for your health. Avoiding dietary gluten may result in a low intake of whole grains, which are linked with cardiovascular benefits, according to a new study published in the journal BMJ. If you don't need to be G-free, missing out on these healthy whole grains isn't doing any favors for your health.
The researchers—from Harvard University, Columbia University, and Massachusetts General Hospital—surveyed the dietary habits of nearly 65,000 women and 45,000 men every four years from 1986 through 2010. In the end, the researchers compared the fifth of the population that consumed the most gluten with the fifth of the population that consumed the least gluten. They found that cardiovascular risk was equal for those steering clear of the G word and those who ate the most.
The study found that neither consuming foods with or without gluten has a significant association with heart disease risk, but the researchers advise against adopting a gluten-free diet in the name of cardiovascular health if you've never actually been diagnosed with celiac. However, when the researchers adjusted their analysis to separate consumption of refined grains versus whole grains, they found that people in the group eating the highest amount of gluten via whole grains had a lower cardiovascular disease risk than those in the group of lowest gluten eaters. This supports current research that consumption of whole grains is linked with lower cardiovascular risk.
Let's back it up for a sec. Gluten, ICYMI, is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. People who have celiac disease can't tolerate that protein. It sends their immune system into a freak out that damages the lining of the small intestine, messing with the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food. (Get more need-to-know facts in our Celiac Disease 101 guide.) If you don't have celiac disease, your body can most likely handle gluten just fine—and it is by no means unhealthy. There is some gray area where someone's digestive system can be sensitive to the grain itself (in the same way someone can be sensitive to dairy products, but not full-blown lactose intolerant).
So go ahead and have the whole-grain bread. Your heart will thank you for it (in more ways than one).