Cutting gluten from your diet could help to reduce cholesterol, boost energy levels and improve concentration, Scottish experts have claimed.
Nearly 100 volunteers followed a gluten-free diet for three weeks, followed by another three weeks eating normally, as part of a project to assess whether avoiding gluten had an impact on people without coeliac disease.
The condition is a serious digestive disorder where an adverse reaction to gluten – contained in wheat, barley or rye – causes painful damage to the intestines.
Aberdeen University scientists are now investigating non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), where people suffer abdominal pain, bloating and fatigue with less damage to the intestines.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and tennis ace Novak Djokovic are among high-profile fans of a gluten-free diet.
The study found participants were eating more fruit and fibre on the gluten-free diet, and most reported fewer stomach problems and higher energy levels.
There was also a 4 per cent decrease in blood cholesterol.
Dr Alexandra Johnstone, a senior research fellow at Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, said: “It was interesting to discover that participants in the study found their dietary patterns improved whilst following a gluten-free diet, which was also reflected in reduced blood cholesterol.
“When on a gluten-free diet, those who took part in the study ate less processed food, cooked more meals using natural ingredients, and consumed more fruit and vegetables, which consequently (and positively) impacted on salt and fibre intake.
“Participants also reported improvements in fatigue and intestinal symptoms which could also be related to the fact that they ate a healthier diet as a result of cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients.”
Nutritionist Emma Conroy welcomed the findings as she explained some people without coeliac disease experience severe symptoms from eating gluten. She said: “It has taken years for the term non-coeliac gluten sensitivity to be recognised.
“Most people can digest the gluten they eat without experiencing any symptoms. But I see people who have very severe symptoms from eating gluten. They might not have coeliac’s disease but there is no doubt at all that they should avoid gluten.”
However, avoiding gluten is not healthier if the person does not have an intolerance, she added.
Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, founder of Edinburgh-based gluten-free firm Genius Foods, said: “This study knocks on the door of a new frontier of scientific research to help us better understand the subject of the gluten-free diet and its impact on health.”