Turns Out We've Had Gluten All Wrong

Updated 10/13/19
Woman standing in kitchen eating pizza

Is gluten really that bad for you? We can't count the number of times we've heard someone say they're intolerant and get bloated after nibbling a little pasta or that they're giving up their slice of morning toast because they want to lose weight.

Over the past few years, we've been told that bread (and carbohydrates in general) can be bad for us, and the figures show that this has affected our shopping habits. Despite only 1% of people suffering from celiac disease, which is where your body is actually intolerant of gluten and your bowels become inflamed from eating it, 2016 saw a global increase in gluten-free food by 12.6% to $3.5 billion.

While some might see this as good news that we're all becoming more aware of our health and cutting out foods that are apparently no good for us, new research suggests that couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, following a gluten-free diet, unless for legitimate medical reasons, can actually do more harm than good. To sort the facts from the fiction, we've looked at the most recent scientific research to give you a better understanding of gluten and why you can start reaching for the pizza again without feeling guilty.

Keep scrolling to find out why going gluten free isn't exactly the wonder diet trick it's cracked up to be...

Myth #1: It Helps You Lose Weight

Despite many a (slim) A-lister advocating a gluten-free diet, there isn't really any evidence to suggest that giving up the proteins found in wheat can help you lose weight. Says registered dietitian and nutritionist Jennifer Neily, "You clean up your eating habits by taking away white flour, sugar, junk food and other things you should be limiting anyway." However, when you go gluten-free, people tend to replace the lack of gluten with a bigger intake of the gluten-free products that seem healthy, thanks to the gluten-free halo effect.

In a recent study carried out by the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council of over 9000 Australian adults, they found that eating core grain foods (e.g., gluten) isn't linked to the size of your waistline. In fact, researchers discovered that "adults with the highest intakes of core grain foods, which includes bread, breakfast cereals and pasta, had similar waist circumferences and BMIs compared with adults who had the lowest core grain intakes." So far, it seems that we can indulge in gluten-rich foods without seeing a problem when it comes to the scales.

However, one study from this month demonstrated that there was a worrying link between going gluten-free and type II diabetes. According to a study conducted by Harvard University, there was evidence that showed either eating small amounts of gluten or avoiding it altogether "increases the danger of diabetes by as much as 13%."

Myth #2: It's Better for Your Digestive System

While many people might believe their digestive problems are caused by gluten, there is a theory that it's not necessarily to do with the gluten, but rather the sugars often present in the gluten-rich foods that can cause things such as IBS.

For example, researchers at Monash University in Melbourne are claiming that it's not gluten that causes IBS but FODMAPs instead. Foods that are high in FODMAPs (aka fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) are found in many processed and non-processed foods, but are often found in foods that also contain gluten.

These compounds pass undigested into the colon, where they are fermented by the bacteria that has colonized your colon. This process is normal, but the gas produced causes the bowel to stretch. As a result, some people, who are more sensitive to this reaction, suffer from IBS-type symptoms like bloating, cramping, and excess wind. You can read more about how to follow the FODMAP diet here and which foods are right for you. You can also check out plenty of FODMAP books, too.

But removing whole grains from your diet can have another undesirable effect. Gluten can be a major source of fiber that's integral to our bowels functioning properly, so this means that you might create other health problems. “The average American diet is deficient in fiber," says Daniel A. Leffler, MD, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Take away whole wheat, and the problem gets worse."

Myth #3: It's Better for Your Heart

Another reason going gluten-free isn't advised for people who aren't celiacs? Our hearts. In a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, "restricting gluten may result in a low intake of whole grains, which are associated with cardiovascular benefits."

In fact, the researchers say the risk of heart disease could actually be greater with a gluten-free diet, as those who "severely restrict gluten intake may also significantly limit their intake of whole grains, which may actually be associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes."

So then, who's up for pizza?

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