Ever heard about gluten through popular media channels like the TV, the internet, on social media and in magazines and newspapers? Well, you’re not alone. Gluten is the target of many health experts in both the food and medical industry. It’s the new scapegoat in the allergy and diet landscape. This food ingredient is demonized largely by those who believe it should be eliminated from your diet at all costs. And why not? Science says that the world has developed gluten intolerance and gluten allergies during the past ten years or so on both non-celiac and celiac autoimmune disease kind.
Scare the public and you’ll see people who are perfectly healthy avoid something as important as gluten. Most people will shy away from gluten because they hear from “reliable” sources that gluten is a dangerous food ingredient. The rationale behind the thought is that you shouldn’t take it because it has scary effects. This has been done before- when people learned about the dangers of fat and avoided them. They ate a high sugar, low-fat diet and were surprised to gain much more weight than before. We learned the dangers of fad diets since then.
Here’s a simple rule that you should know- gluten is a relatively harmless protein, one that should only be avoided if you have a non-celiac or celiac gluten intolerance. Otherwise, gluten is made to do more good than harm on a non-gluten allergic individual. This ingredient gives more amino acid than most, all of which is good for your muscles. Gluten is the food product that gives wheat its natural, distinctive texture.
So here’s something that you may not have heard about- the opposite of the gluten scare. Science has dug deep and found that avoiding gluten in your food can actually be riskier than you may have thought. Researchers from the Illinois University in Chicago have found that cutting gluten completely off anyone’s diet may lead to a dangerous increase of possible ingestion of deadly chemicals such as mercury, arsenic and similar toxins. How could this be?
We know that flour is one of the most common staple items in the kitchen. It’s used to cook a wide variety of meals and desserts. But it cannot be digested by someone who has non-celiac or celiac gluten intolerance. To continue eating without risks, these individuals will have to find alternative sources of flour, that of the non-wheat variety. Good thing for them, the food industry has a lot of alternatives- corn flour, almond flour, coconut flour, and perhaps the best alternative of all, rice flour. Rice flour is the closest thing you can have for wheat flour because of two things. One, food made with rice flour has a similar taste to wheat-based flour. And two, it produces a similar food texture to that of wheat flour.
But there are risky effects to eating more rice flour than what is normal. Studies have found that rice has a higher tendency to acquire dangerous, toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic from their surroundings. The rice grown can absorb these metals in the water, in the ground and in the fertilizers farmers use to grow rice. These toxic metals carry over from harvest to your plate, translating to a greater intake of toxins when you eat food prepared with rice flour.
Let’s go to the actual studies themselves. Researchers have tested 73 patients that were not taking gluten products. They found out that there was a notable increase of both arsenic and mercury levels in their blood as compared to patients who ate gluten products. The increase was staggering- non-gluten eating patients had as much as 200% higher arsenic levels and 70% higher mercury levels than the gluten eaters.
The reality may scare you. If rice flour presented a higher chance of ingesting these toxic metals, then it would make perfect sense to look for lesser risk food ingredient alternatives. The key thing to remember is gluten may be good for you after all. It’s a perfectly harmless protein for anyone who doesn’t have the non-celiac or celiac gluten sensitivity. These are the people who go on a gluten-free diet not because everyone’s doing it, but because they have allergies to it. Individuals who eliminate gluten from their diet just because it’s the “in” thing have a lot to lose. More notably, they can lose valuable nutrients and gain a greater risk of ingesting toxic metals.
More Gluten-Free Diet Risks
If your goal is to lose weight, then going gluten-free isn’t the way to do it. People experience the complete opposite of losing weight when they cut wheat out entirely from their diet. Eating whole grains causes one to feel quite full and more satiated, thanks to the grain’s structure- the endosperm, the germ and the bran. Plus, wheat takes longer to pass through your digestive systems, which means the sugar is released gradually as compared to foods that cause a blood sugar spike. Gluten-free foods try and compensate for the lack of texture or the flavor of the wheat variety by adding carbs and calories, which makes you feel hungry more often. The excess carbs are packed in and stored as extra fat, which isn’t good either.
Fiber is plentiful in wheat and is an important part of anyone’s diet, whether they have non-celiac or celiac gluten sensitivity. Fiber maintains your gut’s health, which becomes scarce if you’re opting in for the gluten-free diet. Whole grains such as bread, pasta, whole wheat cereal have plentiful fiber that can be eaten along with vegetables and fruits. The non-gluten food ingredients lack the necessary fiber needed to facilitate a good gut health, often leading to constipation. Moreover, those who avoid gluten products may also be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals such as folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and calcium.
Those who opt for gluten-free foods will have to shell out more to get their fix. Since gluten-free food is such a popular fad, it has blossomed into a $9 billion dollar industry. You’ll generally have to pay more to get gluten-free products than their non-gluten counterparts.
Bulka, Catherine M. MPH; Davis, Matthew A. PhD; Karagas, Margaret R. PhD; Ahsan, Habibul MD, MMedSc; Argos, Maria PhD, “The Unintended Consequences of a Gluten-Free Diet”. Epidemiology: February 15, 2017 – Volume Publish Ahead of Print – Issue – ppg doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000640.