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Gluten-Free Foods Are Healthy, But Can Boost Toxic Metal Risk: Study

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By Mary Martin   |   Monday, 13 Mar 2017 10:35 AM

Growing numbers of Americans are going gluten free, with the popularity of such diets rising 67 percent increase since 2013, according to a recent study. But new research suggests conventionally grown gluten-free foods can increase your risk for toxic heavy metal exposure.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago reported that rice flour may contain higher traces of toxic metals than wheat flour, rye, and barley — gluten-containing grains avoided by those who can’t tolerate the protein.

The toxic metals get into the rice through fertilizers, soil and water. According to researchers, the accumulation of these toxic metals can increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and neurological illness.

Levels of arsenic in the urine and mercury in the blood were found to be more concentrated in the 73 people participating in the study who followed gluten-free diets. Arsenic levels were nearly twice as high and mercury levels were 70 percent higher in the gluten-free participants.

The researchers said the findings point up the need for consumers to choose foods that are grown organically or produced with low levels of agricultural chemicals. The study also suggests federal regulators and health officials should do more to limit toxic ingredients in the U.S. food supply.

“In Europe, there are regulations for food-based arsenic exposure, and perhaps that is something we here in the United States need to consider,” study author Maria Argos said in a news release.

“We regulate levels of arsenic in water, but if rice flour consumption increases the risk for exposure to arsenic, it would make sense to regulate the metal in foods as well.”

Argos says that more studies need to be done before determining whether going gluten-free poses a serious health danger.

“These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet,” she said.

About 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease, for which a gluten-free diet is recommended. The majority of Americans following gluten-free diets tout health benefits like reduced inflammation and weight loss, the study author says.

Other studies have shown that gluten-free diets may lead to consuming more sugar, fat, and calories, which are often added to gluten-free products to make up for lost taste.

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More Americans are going gluten free than ever before. But while such diets can be a healthy option, new research suggests conventionally grown gluten-free foods can increase your risk for toxic heavy metal exposure, if you’re not careful about what you buy.
gluten, free, diets, toxic, metal, rice
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