While some wellness fads come and go, recent research has suggested that gluten-free diets might have something to them, especially when it comes to your baby’s long-term health. According to new research published in The BMJ, babies born to mothers who consume excessive amounts of gluten during pregnancy are at increased risk of developing diabetes later in life, while babies born to mothers who reduce their gluten intake during pregnancy are at lower risk. But before you go tossing out all the grains in your kitchen cupboards, we want to go over the details of the study and what the findings actually mean for you.
The study was one of the largest of its kind, conducted by a multi-national team of researchers who examined data from 63,000 pregnant mothers in Denmark. Between 1996 and 2002, pregnant women were asked to self-report their gluten intake (think wheat-based pastas, cookies and breads) and later report whether their children developed type 1 diabetes in 2016. Results of the study showed that “the risk of type 1 diabetes in children ‘increased proportionally’ with maternal gluten intake” and among the participants’ children, 247 went on to develop Type 1 Diabetes.
So what does this mean for you? Like all studies, this one has its limitations, and while it was a large, longitudinal study it definitely doesn’t suggest you should go cold turkey on gluten right away! The study’s authors concede that more research is needed to confirm a definite causal link between maternal gluten intake and baby’s risk of Type 1 Diabetes, and a spokesperson for Diabetes UK said “it’s far too early to determine just how big a player gluten is.” With all of this in mind, the best thing to do is speak to your healthcare provider or a nutritionist about how a low-gluten or gluten-free diet might impact you. In general, nutritionists do urge caution in switching to an entirely gluten-free diet if you do not have celiac disease, as it’s good to be aware of how such a change can impact your health.
We know you know this by now, but the focus right now is making sure you’re getting a balanced, nutrient-dense diet to carry you and baby through pregnancy. It’s definitely a healthy bet to make efforts to reduce or eliminate your intake of refined and processed grains and sugars – and these are definitely gluten-containing foods! Refined grains and sugars have been shown to have negative impacts on both your and your baby’s long-term health. The direct role of gluten’s impact alone is what still needs to be determined. Don’t forget that grains that offer slow-release energy and are often considered to be ‘healthier’ – such as farro, bulgur wheat, barley, and oats – also contain gluten. If this study speaks to you and you want to make a change, you can definitely take steps to reduce your gluten-intake by cutting back on refined grains and sugars, without needing to go entirely gluten-free.
If you do wish to take a lower gluten approach to your dietary habits and be more mindful of what you’re putting into your body, we’ve got some incredibly easy alternatives! Try sneaking these tasty low-gluten and gluten-free alternatives into your cooking:
- Swap soy sauce for tamari. Traditional Chinese soy sauce is typically made with wheat, but Japanese tamari is wheat-free and even richer in flavor.
- Swap flour tortillas for corn tortillas. Whether you’re indulging in tacos or a quick breakfast wrap, try corn tortillas for a gluten-free flavor twist.
- Swap regular flour for almond flour, coconut flour or specially-formulated gluten free flour. Almond and coconut flour add something special to baking, but if you’re looking for a great all-rounder, go for a gluten-free all purpose flour – which you’ll find more and more frequently in grocery stores.
- Swap pasta for spiralized veggies. Satisfy your noodle craving while getting your daily dose of vitamins – try spiralizing zucchini to make ‘zoodles’ or get creative with your favorite seasonal veggies – carrots, sweet potato, and beets all work!
- Swap store-bought salad dressing for the homemade stuff. While convenient, many store-bought salad dressings contain artificial fillers, often containing gluten. Try a fresh and simple lemon and EVOO drizzle, or get creative – most popular dressings can be made at home with less than 5 ingredients.
No matter what you make of the study’s results, it’s up to you to decide what’s right for your lifestyle, body and baby.