Choosing To Go Gluten-Free With Diabetes: Know The Potential Risks

Up to 80 percent of those on gluten-free diets do not have celiac disease, but avoid gluten as a healthy lifestyle choice.

Gluten is a group of pliable proteins that, when linked, create a stretchy complex giving bread dough and other foods elasticity. “True gluten” is said to be specific to wheat, but gluten is also found in rye, barley, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).

Though it adds a desirable chewiness to certain foods, those with celiac disease experience a harmful immune system response to gluten, and must avoid it. People can also have distressing non-celiac reactions to gluten.

Many books and articles suggest everyone would be better off avoiding wheat products, but that remains controversial. Going gluten-free can have a wide-ranging impact on our overall health, and may even increase the odds of developing type 2 diabetes.

Gluten, Diabetes Risk, and Nutrition Deficits

After tracking the nutritional intake of almost 200,000 people, Harvard University researchers found diets higher in gluten were associated with a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes. Many gluten-free products have low fiber content, and those study participants eating less gluten tended to consume less cereal fiber—a nutritional factor that protects us from type 2 diabetes onset.

Beside the potential added risk for diabetes, there are two additional ways going gluten-free can negatively affect our health:

  1. People making wise food substitutions can lose weight on a gluten-free diet. However, consuming too much “healthy” gluten-free food can lead to weight gain. Manufacturers often enhance the taste and texture of gluten-free items with added fats and (or) sugar.
  2. Gluten-free diets can lack important nutrients that whole grains provide, such as vitamins B and D, iron, zinc, selenium, calcium, and fiber.

Naturally, if people know about the possible nutritional deficits of gluten-free diets, they can compensate by making intelligent food choices.

Potential Gluten-Free Gains

There are also a couple potential positives to gluten-free diets:

  1. Some people report having easier digestion - less gas, bloating, and diarrhea - after going gluten-free.
  2. Avoiding gluten sometimes leads to reduced carb consumption, lower blood glucose levels, and less inflammation—factors that seem to support healthy cognition as we age.

Eating fewer carbohydrate foods could help people with diabetes management as well. However, many people on gluten-free diets do not reduce carb intake. They simply substitute wheat-containing carbohydrates with non-wheat products that typically use rice, potato, and tapioca starches.

Much To Consider

There is clearly much to consider before making gluten-free living a healthy lifestyle choice. Thoroughly researching the consequences, and discussing them with a doctor or dietitian is recommended, especially for people with chronic health conditions.

For those who suspect they are sensitive to gluten, it’s important to know that people are less likely to stay with a gluten-free diet if sensitivity is self-diagnosed, and a proper diagnosis of celiac disease can only be made before gluten is eliminated from the diet.

Sources: American Heart Association ; Live Science; New Scientist; Mercola
Photo credit: JMacPherson

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