Researchers from Harvard University found that a low- or gluten-free diet may increase a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

The research findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, and gives bread and baked goods their elasticity during the baking process. Celiac disease is a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity in people and is linked to type 1 diabetes.

The availability of gluten-free products has increased in recent years, however, many people without Celiac disease are using gluten-free products more and more. Research has shown that reducing gluten consumption in people without Celiac disease provides no long-term health benefits.

“We wanted to determine if gluten consumption will affect health in people with no apparent medical reasons to avoid gluten,” Geng Zong, a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release. “Gluten-free foods often have less dietary fiber and other micronutrients [vitamins and minerals], making them less nutritious and they also tend to cost more. People without Celiac disease may reconsider limiting their gluten intake for chronic disease prevention, especially for diabetes.”

The large cohort study included data from three previous studies consisting of 4.24 million people followed from 1984-90 to 2010-13.

Researchers found most participants had gluten intake below 12 grams per day, and within that range, people who ate the most gluten had lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes during the 30 years of follow-up.

Participants who ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fiber, which is a known protective factor for type 2 diabetes.

Researchers found participants in the highest 20 percent of daily gluten consumption had a 13 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to participants with the lowest amount of daily gluten consumption.

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