Eating more gluten may be associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to research conducted at the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.
Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, gives bread and other baked goods elasticity during the baking process and a chewy texture in finished products. While only a small percentage of the population can’t tolerate gluten due to Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, gluten-free diets have become popular for people without these conditions, despite lack of evidence that reducing gluten intake provides long-term health benefits.
The researchers wanted to determine if gluten consumption will affect health in people with no apparent medical reasons to avoid gluten. Gluten-free foods often have less fibre, vitamins and minerals making them less nutritious. People without Celiac disease may reconsider limiting their gluten intake for chronic disease prevention, especially for diabetes.
For the study, researchers estimated daily gluten intake for 199,794 participants in three long-term health studies -- 69,276 from the Nurses' Health Study (NHS), 88,610 from the Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII) and 41,908 from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) -- from food-frequency questionnaires completed by participants every two to four years. Participants were followed for 30 years.
Low gluten eaters had greater risk of diabetes, ate less fibre
They found that most participants had gluten intake below 12 grams/day, and within this range, those who ate the most gluten had lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Study participants who ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fibre, a known protective factor for Type 2 diabetes development.
Even after further accounting for the protective effect of cereal fibre, individuals in the highest 20 percent of gluten consumption had a 13 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in comparison to those who consumed the least gluten.
Keep in mind that the study was observational, therefore it does not prove that a low gluten diet increases diabetes risk. Also, most of the participants took part in the study before gluten-free diets became popular, so there is no data from gluten abstainers.
Source: American Heart Association.
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