It can be difficult to figure out what is healthy and what is unhealthy. When reading newspapers and magazines, you can get the impression that it changes every week. Many are under the impression that carbohydrates and in particular gluten are unhealthy.
Gluten is a protein found in classic cereals such as wheat, rye and barley. If you suffer from celiac disease (gluten intolerance), even very small amounts of gluten can be harmful to the intestines. That should be taken seriously.
In recent years, it has become a trend for a growing group of healthy people in society to stop eating gluten due to their fear of increasing their insulin sensitivity and developing cardiovascular disease and/or type 2 diabetes. The people who have cut out gluten from their diet are of the opinion that it makes them feel better.
Low-gluten diet made no difference in regards to inflammation
The researchers behind a new study have written a summary of their expectations and experiences with the study at videnskab.dk. The intention with the study, which the article is about, was to investigate whether anything scientific can be said about what happens to the body when gluten is cut out from one’s diet.
Some of the things that have been proven to lead to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes are chronic inflammatory conditions. The inflammatory condition can be determined by measuring the so-called inflammatory markers. In addition, the study has also monitored more general health markers such as cholesterol levels, blood sugar and intestinal bacteria.
The voluntary test subjects in the study were assigned a predetermined diet for a period of eight weeks, where they consumed a low-gluten diet. Then followed a six-week break, after which they were assigned a new diet as a control measure for another eight weeks.
The researchers write that it did not make any difference to the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes that the subjects consumed a low-gluten diet during the test period.
Significant changes in the intestinal bacteria
The low-gluten diet that the test subjects were assigned was rich in fibres. For many of the test subjects, these fibres were different from the ones that the subjects were used to consume, because the fibres did not come from the usual sources - namely bread and other cereal products.
This led to a new composition of fibres in the intestines of the subjects, which caused the so-called bifidobacteria to disappear. The presence of bifidobacteria in the intestinal flora is generally considered to be a sign of health since they are good at using the fibres and complex carbohydrates which stem from wheat.
The reduction of gluten in the test diet is not considered to be the cause of the disappearing bacteria. Rather, the lack of customary fibres in the diet is believed to be the cause. Research does not indicate unequivocally that it is unhealthy to be missing these bacteria in the intestine. All the health markers remained unchanged both in the control period and in the test period with the low-gluten diet.
What should you be aware of in relation to the debate about gluten?
The researchers behind the study emphasize that, regardless of whether you believe gluten is healthy or unhealthy, it will always be possible to find a study that supports one or the other.
You can look out for whether the study you are reading about is an intervention study, as is the case here, or whether it is an observational study. Observational studies often include self-reporting about one’s dietary intake, and the results are in some cases based upon a great deal of uncertainty about what has actually been consumed.
Intervention studies dictate exactly what the test subjects should and should not consume and do. Furthermore, monitoring of the object of investigation is done, as is the case with this study, where the test subjects were assigned an entirely different diet that also was measured.
Nevertheless, the conclusion of this controlled study is clear. Gluten is not unhealthy for people who do not suffer from gluten intolerance, and it does not increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.