Why going G-free for ~fun~ might not be the best thing for your health.

By Lauren Mazzo
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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).

Comments (7)

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Anonymous
May 3, 2017
This is the standard adversarial, useless response when someone does not like the implications that a particular trend in nutritional science portends. Avoiding gluten will not cure all your ails and cause you to be a super-centenarian. It is also true that gluten containing grains also have nutritional benefits. These things are clear, however, the author's conclusion that gluten is safe for everyone not diagnosed with Celiac/non-Celiac gluten sensitivity is not a claim that should be made. Gluten or more specifically gliadin has a well do[filtered]ented process by which it undergoes protein interlinking in the human stomach. This is akin to the way in which urushiol oil, what makes poison oak poisonous, bonds to human skin cells. The reasons for this have to do with molecular geometry but the end result is that ALL human skin cells bond with urushiol oil and ALL human stomach linings bond with gluten->gliadin. This is not controversial in medical science. But to further the poison oak comparison there is certainly a range of reactions to poison oak ranging from myself (complete an utter dermal apocalypse) to my wife who gets a barely noticeable skin rash that subsides in a couple of days. Research suggests that gluten works similary with Ceoliac suffers being the equivalent of me with poison oak and people that seem to eat gluten with no apparent effects more like my wife (You can get more technical details on this by starting with the NIH study tagged as "Is gliadin really safe for non-coeliac individuals? Production of interleukin 15 in biopsy culture from non-coeliac individuals challenged with gliadin peptides." which can be found right on the website of the National Ins[filtered]ute of Health). One of the concerns about mild gluten interleukin responses is that over a lifetime of mild, gluten induced inflamation conditions such as lymphoma may become much more likely. So since we know that gluten is latching on to our stomach linings (again this is fact for ALL humans not just Ceoliacs) then of course the author is wrong and we should all stop eating gluten, right? Well of course this is where the ambiguity that you all hate comes in. Everyone wants the health silver bullet but it doesn't exist. Yes gluten probably produces some degree - from very little to a w[filtered] lot - of inflamation in all humans but unlike poison oak gluten containing grains also deliver some substantial benefits most notably coronary benefits as the author accurately points out. So if give up gluten to avoid inflamation and you don't make any other adjustments to your diet then yes you quite possibly will experience a net negative impact on health since it's your ticker that is most likely going to kill you. On the other hand, if you cut out gluten and replace gluten products with a diet rich in grains/pseodograins that are, quite frankly, the nutritonal superior to wheat, barley and rye (e.g. flax, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, chia, etc.) then the current data suggest that you will experience a positive net health effect. It's not very sexy to talk in terms of "positive net health effects" but that's about as certain as you can get with this stuff. No magic bullets. No definitive answers. And that fundamentally is the issue here. The author is suggesting that there is a definitive answer for those of you that are not diagnosed Ceoliacs. But that's simply not true. The truth is that there are some reasons to be concerned about gluten no matter who you are BUT if you're not prepared to educate yourself substantially on the impacts and mitigation strategies thereof for a gluten-free diet then it is possible that you will do more harm than good by adopting such a diet. Unfortunately I never see an article that reads like this comment which is unfortunate because the misinformation and ignorance on this topic just continues to get worse...
Anonymous
May 3, 2017
Because not everything is about you and your condition. Celiac was just an example given, which seems fairly oblivious. This article is clearly for people thinking about going gluten free with no real medical reason to do so. Your whining and narcissism are disgusting.
Anonymous
May 3, 2017
Celiac disease is not the only autoimmune condition where avoiding gluten is highly recommended. I was able to recover from Hashimoto's syndrome and hypothyroidism by eliminating gluten from my diet and sticking with autoimmune paleo protocol for the past six months. There are many other autoimmune conditions which can be healed by avoiding gluten, So why is the author of this article focus only on celiac disease?!