Could a GF Diet increase your risk of Type 2 Diabetes?

According to a recent long-term observational study presented at the American Heart Association’s 2017 Scientific Sessions, eating more gluten may be associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM). In particular, the researchers of the above study found:

  • Most of the study participants ate less than 12g of gluten a day (which is about four slices of bread).
  • Within this range, those who ate the most gluten had a lower risk of developing T2DM during 30 years of follow-up.
  • Study participants who ate less gluten tended to eat less whole grain cereal fiber, which is a known protective factor against the development of T2DM.

That last finding, that participants who ate less gluten also ate less whole grain cereal fiber, is particularly interesting. Over the years, research has strongly supported the suggestion that a high intake of whole grain cereals (ie: grains) protects against the development of T2DM.

Although it remains to be established exactly what component of a whole grain contributes to its health benefits, one hypothesis is that the insoluble fiber in whole grains slows down transit time through the gut. This then positively affects blood sugar levels and appetite regulation. Another thought is that the complex mixture of nutrients and phytochemicals in whole grains may be involved in cell signaling, gene regulation and hence, disease prevention.

Many processed gluten-free food products contain very little in the way of whole grain fiber, and are also poor sources of micronutrients. While the transition from a gluten-containing diet to a gluten-free diet can be made easier with the aid of gluten-free food products such as breads, pasta, muffins, cakes and breakfast cereals, it is important to remember what vitamins and minerals you may be omitting by eliminating gluten-containing foods from your diet – especially important in grains are B vitamins and fiber.

So, how can you enjoy the health benefits of whole grains on a gluten-free diet and possibly decrease your risk of T2DM?

  • Replace refined and low fiber gluten-free grains with higher fiber gluten-free grains. For example, replace white rice with brown rice, black rice, buckwheat grouts or quinoa.
  • Instead of baking with gluten-free flours made from starches and white rice, use higher fiber-containing flours such as buckwheat, amaranth, brown rice or oat (if you can tolerate oats). Many of these items can be purchased locally online via Sandi’s Gluten Free Shop or has a good selection, too.
  • Treat gluten-free food products (cakes, muffins, biscuits) as treats and eat them minimally.

Coming back to the “gluten increases T2DM risk” study, it’s important to remember this study was observational, which means the people involved were purely observed and no control measures were in place. Therefore, more controlled studies are required to confirm the findings. However, it’s important to remember that multiple studies have found whole grains to be protective, so it makes sense for coeliacs and people with gluten intolerance to increase their intake of gluten free whole grains. Also, go ahead and read our previous posts on Whole Grains – Gluten-Free and Gluten-Free Diet and Fiber. For the comfort of your gut and bowels, always increase the amount of whole grain fiber you eat gradually, and ensure you drink plenty of water. If you are concerned about your fiber or nutrient intake, contact the GFCN Dietitian.

Hannah Baker, RD, GFCN Dietitian

References upon request.

Photo from here.


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