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Don’t Be Fooled By Gluten-Free Diet Warnings

According to a report in Epidemiology, a gluten-free diet can lead to increased exposure to arsenic and mercury. This is likely an unintended consequence resulting from the common practice of substituting rice flour for wheat flour in gluten-free processed foods. The study found that people adhering to a gluten-free diet had nearly twice as much arsenic in their urine and 70 percent higher mercury levels in their bloodstream than those who were not restricting their gluten intake. 

Rice is a global staple and also the leading source of dietary arsenic. Of course the prepackaged foods containing rice flour really have no place in a healthy diet to begin with, but the fact is that rice itself, rather than the processing, is the source of the toxic metals. 

First, a quick primer on arsenic. There are two types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. Organic refers to the chemical composition, rather than the farming method, and simply means that the arsenic atom has bonded with carbon. Fish is high in naturally occurring organic arsenic

Inorganic arsenic is even more problematic and the type found in rice. Unlike wheat or corn, rice is grown in flooded conditions. This allows toxic metals, such as arsenic and mercury to absorb more easily through the roots and accumulate in the grain.

Apart from rice’s efficiency at absorbing toxins from the soil, there is the legacy of heavy handed agricultural practices. In the U.S., rice is frequently grown on land that was previously used to cultivate cotton, which was saturated with arsenic-based pesticides to fend off boll weevil infestations. 

American-grown rice has among the highest average inorganic arsenic levels in the world. U.S. rice contains nearly three times more arsenic than Basmati rice imported from Nepal, India, and Pakistan. Egyptian rice has the lowest inorganic arsenic levels of all.

Due to its health benefits, affordability, durability and practicality, it may not make sense for everyone to eliminate rice from their diets entirely. Whether it’s white, brown or wild rice, I recommend organic varieties. If you're not sure of the source or quality, limit your consumption to two servings per week to minimize your exposure to heavy metals. It is also important to note that the nutritional profile varies greatly between the different kinds of rice

Rice provides 20 percent of the world’s food energy and there are thousands of varieties of this staple crop. Wild rice is a better choice for people wanting to lose weight, because it makes you feel full longer. Comparatively speaking, wild rice is more nutrient-dense, plus it has significantly fewer calories and carbohydrates than white rice. 

White rice is much more plentiful and available on supermarket shelves than brown, black or wild rice, and it's less expensive. But, studies find that eating white rice four or five times a week is linked to heightened Type 2 diabetes risk, while eating two to four servings of brown rice had the opposite effect.

Sometimes called "purple" or "forbidden" rice, black rice is an Asian heirloom variety that brings the same benefits as brown rice, but along with those you also get a set of powerful antioxidants. Interestingly, it's possible that the darker the rice, the more potent its nutrients. Black rice, as an example, has been found to contain anthocyanins with nutritional attributes similar to those found in blueberries and blackberries.

A quarter of Americans have embraced gluten-free eating because the standard diet has failed them. Whether it is to address celiac, subclinical gluten intolerance or inflammation, there are plenty of reasons to cut processed grains out of your diet. By tying arsenic and gluten-free diets, this study could potentially convince people not to embrace a healthier diet. In reality, the concerns about arsenic and rice are long standing and easily addressed. 

Moreover, heavily processed gluten-free foods were never the answer. Many gluten-free products contain high amounts of sugar, corn syrup and alternative forms of starch, none of which is healthy. So, while I believe many people can benefit from removing gluten from their diets, stick with gluten-free whole foods as a replacement — not the processed gluten-free junk foods lining many store shelves. For more information on how to optimize your diet, check out my optimized nutrition plan.
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