Data from three large studies found that healthy American adults who eat less gluten have a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. It is already known that people who adopt a gluten-free diet sometimes miss out on dietary fiber, B vitamins, iron and calcium. This research also found they had a lower intake of folic acid and magnesium and a less-healthy diet overall. A normal, gluten-containing diet may be healthier in the long run for people without gluten sensitivity.
The data came from dietary questionnaires completed by health-care workers for their own eating habits every other year beginning as early as 1984 until 2013. It included about 202,000 healthy participants. Gluten consumption was estimated based on the foods they consumed. During follow-up, 15,947 individuals developed Type 2 diabetes. The risk for diabetes was strongly and inversely proportionate to gluten consumption.
The reason for this pattern is unclear. Gluten itself probably does not protect people from diabetes. A diet low in gluten, besides lacking certain nutrients, may reduce beneficial bacteria in the intestine. It could also increase absorption of carbohydrates, straining the body’s ability to stabilize blood sugar.
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