Eating more gluten was associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes in research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions that took place March 7-10 in Portland.
Researchers estimated daily gluten intake for 199,794 people in three long-term health studies: the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. People in the highest 20% of gluten consumption had a 13% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people who had the lowest daily gluten consumption.
People who ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fiber, a known protective factor for type 2 diabetes development.
“We wanted to determine if gluten consumption will affect health in people with no apparent medical reasons to avoid gluten,” said Geng Zong, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “Gluten-free foods often have less dietary fiber and other micronutrients, making them less nutritious, and they also tend to cost more. People without celiac disease may reconsider limiting their gluten intake for chronic disease prevention, especially for diabetes.”
People with celiac disease are unable to tolerate gluten, which is found in certain cereal grains such as wheat, rye and barley.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded the study. The average daily gluten intake was 5.8 grams for people in the Nurses’ Health Study, 6.8 grams for people in the Nurses’ Health Study II and 7.1 grams for people in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
People completed food-frequency questionnaires every two to four years. Over the course of the study, which included 4.24 million person-years of follow-up from 1984-1990 to 2010-2013, 15,947 cases of type 2 diabetes were confirmed. Most of the people took part in the study before gluten-free diets became popular.