healthHealth and Medicine

Study Finds Link Between Gluten-Free Diet And Type 2 Diabetes Risk


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor


contrary to popular belief, gluten is not actually the devil. Teri Virbickis/Shutterstock 

Most dietitians and doctors will tell you, a varied diet is key to being healthy. And seeing as they are actual qualified experts and not Instagram or blog-based advocates, you should be listening to them and not the latter. A new study has found that adopting a gluten-free or low-gluten diet can enhance your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The major study from Harvard University, which was presented yesterday at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Portland, reviewed 30 years’ worth of medical data from 200,000 participants, and found that those who limited their gluten intake or avoided it completely actually had a 13 percent higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.  


"We wanted to determine if gluten consumption will affect health in people with no apparent medical reasons to avoid gluten,” explained Dr Geng Zong of Harvard’s School of Public Health. “Gluten-free foods often have less dietary fiber and other micronutrients, making them less nutritious and they also tend to cost more."

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other related grains. It is the protein that gives baked goods that chewy texture and elasticity in the baking process. Those who are genuinely intolerant have an autoimmune condition known as celiac disease, where their immune system responds to the gluten protein by attacking the small intestine. Only about 1 percent of the population is diagnosed as celiacs.

In the study, researchers used data from the Nurses Health Study, where 199,794 people answered food-related questions every two to four years. They found participants consumed on average around 6-7 grams of gluten a day. Over the 30-year follow-up period, 15,942 cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed.


Image bank gluten-free images are really weird. Pixelbliss/Shutterstock


The study found that those who had a higher intake of gluten – up to 12 grams a day – were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Those who ate less gluten also had a lower cereal fiber intake. Fiber is known to protect against type 2 diabetes. When they had adjusted for the protective effect of fiber, they found those in the top 20 percent for consuming gluten had a 13 percent less chance of developing type 2 diabetes, compared to those who consumed 4 grams or less.

"People without celiac disease may reconsider limiting their gluten intake for chronic disease prevention, especially for diabetes," said Zong.

Despite there being no confirmed evidence that adopting a gluten-free diet has any health benefits, it appears that people would still rather follow the advice of “health bloggers” or “clean eating” gurus, as the gluten-free food trend is still on the rise.

However, if you think you may have an intolerance, then go to your doctor or a dietitian and get tested immediately.


Self-diagnosis of gluten sensitivity and the resulting removal of gluten from your diet can be potentially harmful to undiagnosed celiacs. The only way to test for the intolerance is through studying diet, which doctors can’t do if you’ve already removed gluten from it. Also, without proper diagnosis, undiagnosed celiacs are less likely to stick to the strict diet they need, risking their health, damage to their gut, and increasing their risk of some types of cancer.


healthHealth and Medicine
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  • gluten free,

  • coeliacs,

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