Can a Gluten-Free Diet Lead to Diabetes?

Gluten is a protein that mostly occurs in wheat, barley, and rye. People with celiac disease cannot consume gluten as it attacks their small intestines. About 3 million people in the United States suffer from celiac disease. Many consumers see a gluten-free label and assume that it must be a healthier option. In fact, a study showed that the proportion of people following gluten-free diets without having been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance have increased drastically from 2009 to 2014. Registered dietician, Katherine Talmadge states that 21% of Americans are trying to eat a gluten-free diet, even though only 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease. This means that a large portion of people following a gluten-free diet do not have to do so for medical reasons. The most popular reasons for following this very restrictive diet, besides celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, is weight loss and increased energy.

Gluten-free diets increases risk for type II diabetes

However, completely eliminating any food source from your diet without any dietary advice from a health practitioner can be dangerous. In fact, a recent study showed that those eating more gluten had a 13% less chance of developing type II diabetes than those eating less gluten.  Dr. Geng Zong from Harvard University explains that they believe that persons, who cut out gluten from their diets even if they have no medical ground to do so, end up taking in fewer nutrients and less fiber. Dietary fiber is a well-known protectant against the development of diabetes. In addition to restricting the amount of nutrients consumed, gluten-free foods also tend to be very expensive.  Dr. Zong wanted to investigate whether eating a low gluten diet is truly healthy for those without celiac disease or known intolerance to gluten.  Even after eliminating the effect of dietary fiber, it was still found that those consuming more gluten had a smaller chance of developing type II diabetes.

Gluten-free diets can be detrimental to your gut health

A gluten-free diet is also linked to other detrimental health effects. A study on 10 healthy subjects showed that a gluten-free diet lowered the amount of healthy gut microbes in their bodies. This is because the gut microbes in your colon specifically feast upon undigested carbohydrates, mostly gluten. A reduction in their food source means that they can no longer dominate the microbial landscape of your gut, leaving you vulnerable to less friendly microorganisms.

Missing out on important micronutrients and fiber

Furthermore, because a gluten-free diet replaces whole grain foods with starches from rice and potatoes, Talmadge says that non-celiac gluten-free eaters consume less fiber, iron, zinc, folate, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, vitamin B12, and phosphorus – all healthy micronutrients. Dr. Leffer from Harvard Medical School claims that going gluten-free “just because” is just a more expensive way of eating without any health benefits for those without medical reasons to do so.

Consult a doctor before you make any drastic dietary decisions

The moral of the story is that, as with most things concerning your health, it is important to consult a doctor or dietician before attempting any restrictive diet. While many following a gluten-free diet swear by its health benefits, it is unlikely that they adopted the diet after consulting a doctor. A gluten-free diet is extremely restrictive and may be completely unnecessary, and even bad for your health, if not prescribed by a qualified physician. There are certain medical conditions like celiac disease and diabetes which will benefit from a gluten-free diet. If you think that gluten may be bad for your health, consult a dietician of a physician before you skip the bread aisle.