BY MACALA MACKENZIE
Going gluten-free gained mass popularity for a reason—in people with celiac disease, grains can cause intestinal damage and inflammation that can up the risk of serious health issues like coronary heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
But what’s a legit diet decision for some quickly became the stuff of social media hashtags, hip bakeries and food blogs, prompting a lot of people without gluten issues to jump on the bandwagon.
Until a study just published in the British Medical Journal, researchers hadn’t actually looked at whether giving up gluten would have the same risk-reducing effects for those of us sans celiac. Turns out, going gluten free for healthy guys might actually be harmful to your health, as the study suggests.
To get a handle on how committing to a gluten-free diet affects people without celiac disease, researchers looked at survey data from over 110,000 health professionals in the U.S. chronicling detailed food preferences every four years between 1986 and 2010. Specifically, they looked at how dietary changes impacted the participants’ risk of developing coronary heart disease (one of the negative effects gobbling grains can have on those with celiac disease).
Not only did they find that going gluten-free wasn’t beneficial for those without actual gluten tolerance issues, the study researchers also found avoiding gluten can actually be harmful to your heart health if you don’t have the condition.
Here’s why: Those same gluten-filled whole grains that can wreak havoc on the system of someone with celiac are also filled with heart-protecting benefits. Skipping out when you don’t have a dietary need can end up being detrimental to your heart health.
Though the study authors adjusted for other known risk factors that may have skewed a participant’s risk of heart disease in order to determine their findings, they also point out that this kind of observational study can only prove correlation, not direct causation. In other words, you’re not scoring any heart-health benefits by going gluten-free when you don’t absolutely need to, and there’s a chance you may actually be doing your heart some harm.
In fact, here’s what the researchers concluded: “The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged, ” they write.