A growing number of people are voluntarily going on a low-gluten diet, even if they don't have an allergy or intolerance. If you're able to eat gluten and considering trying a low-gluten eating plan for yourself, then you've probably heard mixed reviews about whether that type of diet is appropriate for someone like you. Recent research shows that a low-gluten diet can lead to possible health benefits — but only if you approach it the right way.
A November 2018 study published in Nature Communications analyzed 60 healthy middle-aged Danish adults after they tried both a low-gluten diet (2 grams of gluten per day, or the equivalent of about one slice of bread) and a high-gluten diet (18 grams per day). Both interventions took eight weeks apiece, with a washout time period of six weeks in between them. Results showed that the low-gluten diet changed the community of gut bacteria for the participants, leading to less gastrointestinal discomfort like bloating. The same diet was also linked to a modest amount of weight loss. Researchers say that these positive changes are related to the changes of the gut bacteria.
However, it's worth noting that the low-gluten diet was also rich in fiber, which researchers think is key to the results — as opposed to the absence of gluten. Researchers explained that this specific low-gluten diet involved swapping fibers from wheat and rye to fibers in vegetables, brown rice, oats, and quinoa. After all, the composition of fibers in the low-gluten foods is quite a different composition that the composition found in the more gluten-heavy options.
"We demonstrate that, in comparison with a high-gluten diet, a low-gluten, fiber-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," said leading principal investigator Oluf Pedersen, MD, in a press release. "Moreover, we observed a modest weight loss, likely due to increased body combustion triggered by the altered gut bacterial functions."
Researchers say that the study suggests that some healthy people may prefer a low-gluten diet, especially if they're trying to lose weight or blast bloating. However, researchers also caution that more studies are needed before they give any public health advice to folks who want to try a low-gluten diet without a medical necessity to go on such a plan.
"Gluten-free may not necessarily be the healthy choice many people think it is," said Dr. Pedersen. "Most gluten-free food items available on the market today are massively deprived of dietary fibers 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 gastro-intestinal discomfort and in addition to help facilitating weight control in the general population via modification of the gut microbiota."