Going Gluten-free May Be Depriving You of Heart-healthy Whole Grains

Bagel With Butter Jelly

Though a lot of people these days crow about how they have to stick with a low-gluten or gluten-free diet, the actual amount of Americans who need to stay away from gluten is about 1 in 100. And they can’t eat it because they have celiac disease, an auto-immune disorder that causes inflammation in your small intestine, which keeps nutrient absorption low—leading to other diseases down the line like anemia and heart disease. (Gluten, to remind you, is a sticky protein in grains like wheat and barley that helps make bread chewy and delicious.)

A new study from Columbia University Medical Center explored what exactly—health-wise—a low-gluten diet would give someone without celiac disease, and if there were any negative effects since they are avoiding some key nutrients for heart health when eating gluten-free products. To find out, researchers pored over the diet and heart disease data from 100,000 people enrolled in the the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1986 to 2010.

They discovered that a low-gluten diet has no heart-health benefit for people without celiac disease: “In fact, it may cause some harm if they follow a low-gluten diet that is particularly low in whole grains because those grains appear to have a protective effect against heart disease,” said lead author Benjamin Lebwohl, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at CUMC, director of clinical research in the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, and gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

Researchers found that those subjects with very low gluten consumption got heart disease at the same rate as those who gorged on gluten, prompting them to state that, “based on our data, recommending a low-gluten diet solely for the promotion of heart health does not appear warranted.”

So if you don’t have celiac disease, or if your doctor hasn’t diagnosed you as gluten-intolerant, skip the pre-packaged nonsense foods that trumpet their gluten-freeness and stick with good old whole foods. Your stomach will probably start feeling better once it’s consistently full of fresh veggies and fruits.

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