Could Going Gluten-Free Be Bad For Your Heart?

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People who avoid gluten in an attempt to improve their heart health could end up doing themselves more harm than good, according to research published in the British Medical Journal.

The study was designed to address concerns that healthy people – who have not been diagnosed with coeliac disease or a sensitivity to gluten by a medical professional – were restricting gluten to reduce the risk of health problems like obesity, metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure or cholesterol that raises the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes), mental health issues and cardiovascular disease.

There is no established evidence that gluten does any such thing and yet sales of gluten-free foods continue to surge, growing by 12.6% year-on-year in 2016 to $3.5bn, according to consumer data group Euromonitor.

The new study focused on the link between gluten intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, analysing data on 100,000 people with no history of coronary heart disease who completed surveys on their food habits between 1986 and 2010.

No association between reduced gluten intake and a lower risk of heart disease was found. What’s more, the study suggested that going gluten-free in the hope of reducing the risk of cardiovascular issues could have the opposite effect, because restricting gluten meant people ate fewer wholegrains.

Wholegrains are rich in fibre and other nutrients – in fact, they can be up to 75% more nutritious than refined cereals, according to the British Dietetic Association. Eating them frequently is linked with a 30% lower risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke.

RECOMMENDED: Why You Should Be Eating More Wholegrains

A lack of wholegrains is the main problem with going gluten-free without a diagnosis from a medical professional. Earlier this year a study found that people who ate the least gluten had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, probably because they ate fewer fibre-filled wholegrains.

The main messages to take from this research? There are two: ensure your diet contains lots of wholegrains (and fibre), and only people with a medical condition are going to benefit from restricting their gluten intake.

RECOMMENDED: High-Fibre Foods

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.