Is Gluten-Free Bad Dietary Advice for the General Population?
Hey folks, I just wanted to talk about this really interesting article recently published that sought to assess whether a gluten free diet is good for the general population and not just those with a gluten allergy.
A little background, the gluten free food industry has grown at a rate of 28% annually from 2004 to 2011. Sales in 2012 were expected to reach 2.6 billion. The most often cited reason consumers claim to purchase gluten free products is their perception of being healthier when compared to their gluten containing counterparts. Despite the health claims and surging popularity of a gluten-free diet, there is no published evidence supporting benefits to the general population at large. There is, in fact, some evidence to the contrary, suggesting that gluten itself may provide some health benefits.
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There are indications for a gluten free diet, including celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergies. There is also some data to suggest that certain diseases may benefit from a gluten free diet including: systemic lupus erythematosus, dermatitis herpetiformis, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis, and psoriasis.
Despite it’s popularity for weight loss, there are no published reports that gluten free diet produces weight loss in individuals without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. In three different studies of individuals with celiac disease switching to a gluten free diet, anywhere from 11-82% of patients actually gained weight. The authors contend that food absorption may be enhanced when following a gluten free diet. Also, some gluten free foods are actually more energy dense than their gluten containing counterparts.
Wheat is the most widely consumed grain in the US. Certain starches in wheat are known to create a healthy environment for gut bacteria and this diet-microbe interaction may protect the GI tract from some cancers, inflammatory disease and cardiovascular disease. Gluten free diets may lead to a reduction in beneficial gut bacteria. Conversely, increasing whole grain wheat intake has been shown to increase beneficial gut bacteria. Individuals on a gluten free diet are also at risk of inadequate intake of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate and iron.
Dietary gluten may be associated with multiple health benefits. In one study, increased gluten consumption reduced serum triglycerides increased LDL oxidation. Additionally, whole grain consumption has been shown to reduce blood pressure. There is a biological explanation for gluten’s relationship in this process by inhibiting angiotensin 1 converting enzyme. Finally, gluten may also boost the immune system and there are several small pilot studies suggesting that.
In conclusion, gluten free diets are essential for certain individuals, for example celiacs disease and gluten intolerance. However, there is no published evidence to support weight loss claims for a gluten free diet. Gluten rich grains also provide many health benefits. Finally, and most importantly, there is no evidence to suggest that following a gluten free diet has any significant health benefits to the general population. There is some evidence that a gluten free diet can adversely affect gut health in individuals without celiac or gluten intolerance. More research is needed to further deduce the the potential benefits and consequences of the general population consuming a gluten free diet.
Gaesser, G. A., & Angadi, S. S. (2012). Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,112(9), 1330-1333. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2012.06.009