By Lauren Dimitrov, RDN, MPH, LDN
“Gluten-free” is a term that we see more often than ever with food companies and diet trends stating that gluten is harmful. But what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as glue that holds food together. It can be found in a variety of foods, some that you may not even realize.
Gluten-free diets are recommended for people who have Celiac Disease – an autoimmune disorder where the consumption of gluten damages the intestines – or for people who are allergic to or sensitive to gluten. For those who have a gluten allergy, they are encouraged to seek the assistance of a Registered Dietitian to learn how to avoid potential nutritional deficiencies.
Avoiding gluten reduces the consumption of whole grains, which are proven to have cardiovascular benefits. A new study published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), concludes that gluten-free diets should not be promoted for the prevention of coronary heart disease.
Removing gluten from your diet not only reduces your consumption of whole grains, but also the B vitamins, iron, and heart healthy fiber that is found in gluten. Furthermore, gluten-free foods can be loaded with nutrients that should be limited on a heart healthy diet (for example, sugar, salts, saturated fats, and trans-fats).
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of all carbohydrates in your diet come from whole grain products. An additional study in the BMJ found that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower your risk of developing heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. To reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, it’s best to eat a balanced diet, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, instead of following a gluten-free diet.