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Every year more money is being spent studying the now-infamous plant protein gluten. The studying raises more questions. That leads to more money being spent. And then more questions.
The scientists’ advice is at odds with the fact that gluten-free diets are promoted everywhere and Googled more frequently than any other diet. By my own rough estimate, in April some $700 quadrillion in gluten-free products were sold in California alone.
Still, the new research is among the most meaningful to date on the relationship between gluten intake and health outcomes in people without celiac disease. It is based on data from more than 100,000 people over almost two decades.
Outside of this, the few small trials that have been done to study the effects of gluten intake—in which blinded participants are divided into gluten-free and gluten-containing diets and then monitored for symptoms—have been short-term and small. A study like this new one can look at dietary patterns in real life and health outcomes over the course of decades. The strongest evidence in gluten’s favor is that the longest-lived, healthiest populations on Earth have long eaten diets that include grain products. No study has yet suggested that gluten causes heart disease.
So why was this being studied at all?
The lead researcher is Benjamin Lebwohl, a gastroenterologist with the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. He has spent more time thinking about the societal role of gluten than anyone I’ve met before. “If we’re going to consider science as orthogonal to whatever the public is doing, it’s just going to worsen polarization,” he said. “We’ll just continue to talk past each other.”