Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:55 pm

More and more people are avoiding eating bread, but are gluten-free diets healthy – even if you don’t have gluten sensitivity?

The gluten-free diet trend has sparked a debate about whether or not low-gluten diets are good – even for people without allergies.

To find out, an international team of scientists compared the effects of high- and low-gluten diets.

They found that following a low-gluten but fibre-rich diet changes the community of gut bacteria, decreases gastrointestinal discomfort (like bloating) and is linked to a modest weight loss.

The benefits of a gluten-free diet

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Comparing high- and low-gluten diets

For the study, 60 middle-aged healthy adults completed two eight-week diet interventions in which they followed a low-gluten diet (two grams of gluten per day) and a high-gluten diet (18 grams gluten per day).

The diets were balanced in the number of calories, nutrients and included the same amount of dietary fibres. However, the composition of fibres differed markedly between the two diets.

The diets were separated by a period of at least six weeks in which followed their habitual diets (about 12 grams gluten per day).

This study suggests that even healthy individuals may prefer a low-gluten diet to combat intestinal discomfort or excess weight

The research found that the effects of low-gluten dieting in healthy people may not be primarily due to reduced intake of gluten, but rather to a change in dietary fibre composition. This was due to reducing fibres from wheat and rye and replacing them with fibres from vegetables, brown rice, corn, oats and quinoa.

“We demonstrate that, in comparison with a high-gluten diet, a low-gluten, fibre-rich diet induces changes in the structure and function of the complex intestinal ecosystem of bacteria, reduces hydrogen exhalation, and leads to improvements in self-reported bloating,” explains the leading principal investigator, Professor Oluf Pedersen from the University of Copenhagen. “Moreover, we observed a modest weight loss, likely due to increased body combustion triggered by the altered gut bacterial functions.”

This study suggests that even healthy individuals may prefer a low-gluten diet to combat intestinal discomfort or excess weight.

Be careful about gluten-free food quality

“More long-term studies are definitely needed before any public health advice can be given to the general population. Especially, because we find dietary fibres – not the absence of gluten alone – to be the primary cause of the changes in intestinal discomfort and body weight,” says Prof Pedersen.

“By now we think that our study is a wake-up call to the food industry. Gluten-free may not necessarily be the healthy choice many people think it is. Most gluten-free food items available on the market today are massively deprived of dietary fibres and natural nutritional ingredients. Therefore, there is an obvious need for availability of fibre-enriched, nutritionally high-quality gluten-free food items which are fresh or minimally processed to consumers who prefer a low-gluten diet. Such initiatives may turn out to be key for alleviating gastrointestinal discomfort and in addition to help facilitating weight control in the general population via modification of the gut microbiota.”

The dangers of a gluten-free diet

Source: University of Copenhagen via