Researchers at Harvard and Columbia University say they’ve found no link between dietary gluten and heart disease in celiac disease-free people, and limiting whole grains as part of a low-gluten diet could put people at a higher risk of heart disease.
“Gluten is clearly harmful for people with celiac disease,” lead author Benjamin Lebwohl of Columbia University said in a statement. “But popular diet books, based on anecdotal and circumstantial evidence, have pushed the notion that a low-gluten diet is healthy for everyone. Our findings show that gluten restriction has no benefit, at least in terms of heart health, for people without celiac disease.”
He added, “We decided to look at heart disease because it’s a leading killer and because it’s generally understood that heart health can be affected by diet.”
Researchers analyzed data on coronary heart disease and diet on 65,000 women and 45,000 men and excluded those who had been diagnosed with celiac disease. Each participant filled out diet questionnaires every four years from 1986 to 2010. Researchers then divided them into five levels of estimated gluten consumption.
“Even those with the lowest amount of gluten consumption experienced the same rate of heart disease as those who were consuming the most gluten,” co-author Dr. Andrew Chan of Harvard University said in a statement. “Based on our data, recommending a low-gluten diet solely for the promotion of heart health does not appear warranted.”
This study is just one among a long list of others over the years that have debated the legitimacy of gluten-free dieting among people who don’t suffer from celiac disease.
In 2014, the University of Florida found that people were doing more harm to their bodies than good when turning to gluten-free options for weight loss purposes. The reason, they say, is that gluten-free foods are not often enriched or fortified with essential minerals and vitamins.
The absence of gluten in one’s diet may also raise the risk of Type 2 diabetes, a study released by Harvard University earlier this year concluded.
In this study, researchers looked at about 16,000 people with Type 2 diabetes over the span of 30 years. That’s when they found that those who ate the most gluten had the lowest rate of Type 2 diabetes risk. On the other hand, those who ate less gluten were also less likely to get fibre and other protective factors against diabetes.
Making a decision to cut gluten from your diet should be a decision made with your dietician or physician, dietician Kate Comeau of Dieticians Canada says.
“Gluten-free products are often marketed as healthier choices but are often less nutritious and more expensive than comparable gluten containing products,” she said. “If you suspect you have celiac disease, it is important to speak with your physician to be tested before you begin a gluten-free diet to ensure an accurate test.”
According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, more than 330,000 Canadians are believed to be affected by celiac disease, however only about 110,000 are diagnosed.
There are also about 2.4 million Canadians over the age of 20 living with heart disease. With more than 48,000 deaths attributed to heart disease in 2012 alone, it is the second-leading cause of death in the country, the Government of Canada reports.