Today I’m a bit frustrated by conclusions some researchers make when they gather data from studies.
My friends and family know that I’m an entrepreneur who is highly interested in health and nutrition to keep my energy levels up and kick brain fog’s butt right out of my office.
So whenever they see a news article or headline which relates to health, especially gluten-free diets, they make sure I know about it…
And the ones who stay on unhealthy diets loaded with lots of carbs, high fructose corn syrup, and wheat are especially interested in trying to prove my diet as, shall I say “wrong” for lack of a better term.
My response is always this: “Researchers are great at gathering data but not always great at deciphering what the data is really telling them.”
To me, it seems like either they are looking to create “SHOCK” headlines in an effort to get people to take notice of their study (maybe get it mentioned on the nightly news) or they are just really, really bad at drawing conclusions from gathered data.
Terrible Headlines & Conclusions by Researchers
Judith wrote an awesome article here on Carbhaters about just because something is gluten-free, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you where she referenced a study done by the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The title of the article released as a result of the study was:
Gluten-free diet may increase risk of arsenic, mercury exposure
As Judith well pointed out in her article, headlines like this make it sound like gluten is the problem, but of course it is not. Or perhaps it might suggest that gluten is necessary to not be at increased risk for these things–another false conclusion.
Let’s just break this conclusion down and see what’s really going on.
Mentioned in the article is:
Gluten-free products often contain rice flour as a substitute for wheat. Rice is known to bioaccumulate certain toxic metals, including arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil, or water…
So the problem is toxins found in rice and has nothing to do with gluten or gluten-free.
The article mentions how 73 people who reported eating gluten-free in a survey of over 7,000 people had higher concentrations of arsenic in their urine, and mercury in their blood, than those who did not.
And from this discovery they concluded the following:
“These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet,” Argos said.
“But until we perform the studies to determine if there are corresponding health consequences that could be related to higher levels of exposure to arsenic and mercury by eating gluten-free, more research is needed before we can determine whether this diet poses a significant health risk.”
What the heck are they saying here? It sounds like Ms. Argos is saying that a gluten-free diet is causing arsenic and mercury to be found in people. But–didn’t we just discover that it was rice which was doing this?
I know PLENTY of people who eat rice who are not gluten-free.
She also mentioned, “These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet.”
How about better wording it like this: “These results indicate that we have to be careful about arsenic and mercury in our food.”
And calling a gluten-free diet a possible “significant health risk” in relation to this study is ludicrous.
Let’s list out some real significant health risks:
- Regulations (or lack of) poses a significant health risk. Europe has stricter labels and regulations for how much bad can go in food. It seems here in the US our government is not as concerned with you knowing what’s in your food.
- How about the significant health risk of doctors not being educated in good nutrition and only practices sickcare, not health care.
- How about significant health risk being research backed by billion dollar companies who put out reports that something is safe to eat (which backs their product as being safe) when in fact a true professional who knows tells us it is not.
- GMOs and consuming contaminated food
- How about wheat causing diabetes and yet the American Diabetes Association does very little to nothing to advocate removal from our diets and in fact suggests you eat these things (i.e. the diabetes association tells you to eat the very things which can give you diabetes).
These things are posing increased health risks, not gluten-free diets.
An unhealthy diet is an unhealthy diet no matter which lifestyle you choose. I’m gluten-free. I can eat a ton of candy all of which are gluten-free and when I am surveyed and mention I’m gluten-free, should the researchers who discover that I’m unhealthy and at risk of diabetes conclude that gluten-free diets increase your risk of diabetes?
Can you see how this logic is flawed?
This is the logic so many researchers out there are using and I gotta say, it frustrates the crap out of me as an educated person.
Or maybe it’s not even education, it’s just common sense.
To take it back to the entrepreneurial thing, I always tell people, “I’ll hire someone with a little common sense and little education over education and no common sense any day of the week.”
The article ends with this quote:
“In Europe, there are regulations for food-based arsenic exposure, and perhaps that is something we here in the United States need to consider,” Argos said. “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.”
Again, the headline of the article reads: Gluten-free diet may increase risk of arsenic, mercury exposure.
If that’s so, then why are we not swapping out “rice flour” in that last paragraph with “gluten-free”?
Let’s Look At One More Example
I’ll keep this one short since I’ve explained my logic regarding common sense above.
The BMJ (British Medical Journal) set out to examine the association of long term intake of gluten with the development of incident coronary heart disease.
It’s a quick read if you’d like to read it, but here’s what the researchers concluded:
Long term dietary intake of gluten was not associated with risk of coronary heart disease. However, the avoidance of gluten may result in reduced consumption of beneficial whole grains, which may affect cardiovascular risk. The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged.
When they mention “beneficial whole grains”, they are talking about fiber but it’s that last part that makes absolutely no sense–“The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged.”
So is what they’re suggesting is that gluten-free diets are void of fiber?
Again we go back to what we talked about earlier in this article and the example of me eating sugar (gluten-free but not necessarily healthy). Just because you are a gluten-free does not mean you are eating healthy.
What these researchers aren’t understanding is that gluten-free DOES NOT equal healthy, it’s dietary choices which equals healthy – gluten or no gluten.
I really wish they’d read this article here – Just Because Something Is ‘Gluten-Free’ Does Not Mean It Is Good For You!.
Perhaps everyone should read that article so we can stop making these ridiculous claims that gluten-free diets are harming us. It’s not. It’s dietary choices beyond the entire gluten issue.
So the better conclusion by the BMJ should read more like this:
Long term dietary intake of gluten was not associated with risk of coronary heart disease. However, the avoidance of
glutenFIBER may affect cardiovascular risk. Being that in the American Western Diet is high in breads and pastas, gluten-free goers who avoid such foods should make sure they are getting plenty of fiber.
Doesn’t that seem like a more logical conclusion?
Furthermore, what these researchers are neglecting to mention is that gluten negatively affects other parts of our bodies. The researchers at the BMJ seem to only be concerned with gluten and cardiovascular health.
Did they realize that gluten also affects the gut and the brain?
I really wish many of the researchers out there would use a little more common sense, make better conclusions and be more careful about their wording when it comes to data they gather.