Gluten-Free Diets May Lead to Elevated Arsenic and Mercury Levels

Just when I thought that my dietary choices were much better since I decided to avoid wheat gluten in foods, along comes a new study that reveals that eating large amounts of rice flour can lead to heightened arsenic and mercury levels in my body!

I was very dismayed to read about this yesterday.  It all started with an article that I read in First magazine which asked, and then answered the following question:

“Should I be worried about arsenic in gluten-free foods?”

Q:  Following a gluten-free diet has done wonders for my GI issues and brain fog.  But lately I’ve been seeing news reports saying gluten-free foods increase exposure to arsenic and other toxic chemicals.  Now I’m worried my favorite gluten-free breads and treats could be bad for me.  Are they unsafe?

Suffice it to say that this article immediately drew my attention because for the past several years, I have been trying to eliminate breads and foods that contain gluten from my diet.  I have not been tested or diagnosed with Celiac disease (where gluten can have devastating effects upon those who have it).  I found that I felt much better when I eliminated wheat gluten, so I perceived myself as having a  non-celiac gluten sensitivity.  [Note: Dr. Amy Burkhardt strongly recommends being tested for Celiac disease before starting a gluten-free diet.]

Please see:

The Celiac MD: Six Reasons to Test for Celiac Disease
Before Starting a Gluten Free Diet

It became a lifestyle choice for me, personally,  because cutting way down on gluten in my diet did help ease the digestive issues that I was experiencing.  Occasionally, I still consume breads and foods with gluten in them (particularly at restaurants),  but I have tried to eliminate it as much as possible. I did not know (until reading all of these important articles) about the hidden health risks and dangers of increased arsenic and mercury in my diet due to the increased intake of rice flour!

A:  There is reason to be cautious.  In a study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers found that people who followed a gluten-free diet for five or more years had nearly twice as much arsenic and 70 percent more mercury in their systems as those who consumed a standard diet.  And chronic exposure to low levels of these toxic metals has been linked to nausea, arrhythmia, blue moods, fatigue, weight gain and neurological issues.

The problem with gluten-free diets:  Most processed foods like bread, pasta and cookies use a form of rice flour as a substitute for wheat.  This gluten-free grain is great for creating a tender crumb and light texture in baked goods, but it is particularly vulnerable to heavy-metal contamination.  That’s because rice is grown in fields that are flooded with irrigation water.  This water tends to be polluted with arsenic and mercury, which rice plants then absorb as they grow.

That said, it is possible to enjoy the benefits of a gluten-free diet without the associated health risks.  The key is favoring whole foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, nuts and legumes, and limiting intake of processed gluten-free products made with rice flour. 

Instead, opt for breads and pastas made from nuts, ancient grains and beans.  A few products that get our stamp of approval:  Food for Life Sprouted for Life Almond Bread, which is made with quinoa, millet and almond meal and has a hearty, nutty taste ($10, health-food stores); Ancient Harvest Supergrain Pasta, a corn and quinoa-based noodle with a toothsome chew ($3, supermarkets); and Lucy’s Gluten-Free Cookies, which are made from a blend of oat, chickpea, tapioca, sorghum and fava flours ($4, supermarkets).

I have been feeling very fatigued, but just thought that was a natural thing happening to me due to getting older!  (I’m 62)  Perhaps another positive change in my eating habits will help ease that fatigue!

After reading this article, I did a search online and found many other helpful articles about this topic.  One of the best was this one:

The Celiac MD.com: ARSENIC IN RICE & THE GLUTEN FREE DIET : FACTS AND TIPS

One tip that I can share is that instead of using regular bread products (sandwich slices, rolls, English muffins, etc.), I often substitute corn tortillas. Several brands say “gluten-free” on the package, so I look for that designation when selecting them at the store. They are inexpensive and great to use for egg “Mctortillas,” sandwiches, as a substitute for rolls; because you can put practically anything inside and enjoy a gluten-free, yet more tasty meal.  [Additionally, the non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) kind is better, but they are more expensive].

Personally, I have found most of the gluten-free breads on the market tasteless! They often fall apart too! Note the cost of the “Food for Life” bread in the article…$10! I know that I wouldn’t finish the loaf by myself before it would need to be discarded. Some people may like to freeze the slices before use to make it last longer, but I find myself being too lazy to do that. Usually, I just forget.

I hope that this information helps someone out there who thinks that they are eating healthier by eating gluten-free, but were uninformed (as I was!) about the danger of the health risks due to ingestion of increased levels of toxic heavy metals in rice flour!

Hat tips to all links and graphics sites.

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