Eliminating gluten without medical supervision increases the likelihood of type 2 diabetes
Photo: Unsplash/Gaelle Marcel
05/05/2017
Ainhoa Sorrosal
Experts warn that it could also increase the risk of nutritional imbalance

In the United States, 30% of the population has stopped consuming gluten without being coeliac sufferers and in Europe the perception that gluten is harmful has spread. However, researchers warn that it is not advisable to eliminate it without medical supervision because this could result in the elimination of other micronutrients that are beneficial to the organism. In the worst case, it increases the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes or suffering a nutritional imbalance.

Gluten and lactose have become two of the most demonized foods in the last decade. In the case of gluten, at the very least, the claims lack scientific proof. “There is no evidence that gluten is harmful to health in general terms or in the long term,” says Pilar Garcia-Lorda, professor at the UOC's Faculty of Health Sciences. “A medical diagnosis which justifies its exclusion is required,” she adds.


Type 2 diabetes and nutritional imbalance

A study by Harvard researchers published by the American Heart Association has established that people who stop consuming gluten without being coeliac suffers are 13% more likely to have type 2 diabetes than those who generally consume products with gluten.

“The study reveals that the individuals observed who followed a gluten-free diet were consuming fewer products of cereal origin that are rich in fibre, and this is a factor which helps prevent type 2 diabetes,” Alicia Aguilar, professor at the UOC's Faculty of Health Sciences, points out.

“Consequently, the diet has to be balanced. Often when people limit the consumption of gluten, they also eliminate dairy products and other food groups. If this is not compensated for, it may result in diets with excess proteins or simple carbohydrates,” says Anna Bach, professor on the UOC Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Health.


Myths

In recent years, gluten-free diets have been associated with a healthy lifestyle, among other things because a part of Western society believes that they will lose weight. “We often exaggerate the benefits of products or diets. And this is the case here. It has become mythologized and is considered to improve physical condition or result in weight loss. However, at the moment there is no scientific evidence of a causal relationship between eliminating gluten and losing weight,” Aguilar says.

In fact, the UOC Faculty of Health Sciences professor Laura Esquius points out that in general the gluten we consume is in ultra-processed and undesirable products, instead of whole cereal grains, such as rice or wholemeal bread. “Many people lose weight because they stop consuming ultra-processed foods,” she points out.

Therefore, if there is no adverse reaction related to the consumption of foods that contain gluten, doctors recommend following the guidelines associated with the healthy eating pyramid and the Mediterranean diet which indicate that it is necessary to consume cereals (rice, bread, pasta, etc.) on a daily basis and preferably wholegrain ones. “In our culture wheat is the common cereal and, in fact, one of the symbols of the Mediterranean diet triad,” Anna Bach says.


Coeliac disease: an under-diagnosed disorder

The best-known pathology related to gluten is coeliac disease. 1% of the population in the Western world suffers from it, 450,000 people in Spain. However, it is estimated that there are more suffers who have not been diagnosed. A distinction should be made between coeliac disease and an allergy to wheat, and also non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). This last disorder has been detected recently and is estimated to affect between 2% and 6% of the population.

Unlike coeliac disease, NCGS is not only related to gastrointestinal disorders and systematic manifestations, but also to disorders of an inflammatory and/or autoimmune nature other than coeliac disease.

“Increasingly, the trend towards eliminating gluten from the diet is spreading among the affected population, resulting in a positive evolution in the symptoms and an improved quality of life. NCGS is a major disorder and one accepted by the majority of the population, although at present there are not enough scientific studies to determine this condition in the strictest sense,” Garcia-Lorda explains.

 

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Photograph of Alicia Aguilar Martnez

Alicia Aguilar Martnez

Lecturer in the Health Sciences Department
Director of the Master's Degree in Nutrition and Health Deputy Deanof Teaching in the Faculty of Health Sciences

Expert in: Educational innovation in e-health; food studies from a health perspective; biotechnology; nutritional education.

Knowledge area: Nutrition.

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Pilar Garcia-Lorda

Director of the Health Sciences Studies of the UOC.

Expert in:

Knowledge area: Nutrition.

Laura Esquius

Professor of Health Sciences at the UOC.

Expert in:

Knowledge area: Nutrition.

Anna Bach

Professor of the Master's Degree in Nutrition and Health at the UOC.

Expert in:

Knowledge area: Nutrition.