Top Vegan Doctor: Only Avoid Gluten If You Have Sensitivities

Information was part of study about best plant-based diet for heart health
Many people without sensitivities avoid gluten. (Photo: Mike Kenneally)

You should only avoid gluten if you have celiac disease or sensitivities, according to a top vegan doctor.

This advice is part of a review focusing on diet and heart health undertaken earlier this year, by 12 physicians, including top vegan doctor Dr Neal Barnard, resident and founder of the nonprofit Physicians Committee.

The research says: "A gluten-free diet reduces morbidity and mortality for people with celiac disease, which is about one or two per cent of the population. Nonceliac gluten sensitivity may impact six percent of the population. "

Dr Barnard and a number of cardiovascular researchers looked at research behind food trends to put together an easy guide for doctors to pass onto patients.

Heart health and diet are important because heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Nearly half of Americans have at least one controllable risk factor, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.

According to their research: "Leafy green vegetables, berries, especially blueberries and strawberries, and plant proteins, such as lentils and beans, earn top accolades for supporting cardiovascular function. 

"They combine into a plant-based dietary pattern that lowers blood pressure, stabilizes blood sugar, and breaks down arterial plaque, the early formation of atherosclerosis. These foods should be consumed whole, compared to blended in juices or grounded into antioxidant supplements.

"Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, and nuts provide healthful sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, but should be consumed in moderation due to their high calorie content."

Conversely, they recommend that dietary cholesterol should be 'limited'. The traditional Southern diet, which includes lots of added fat as well as sugary drinks, should be avoided.

Dr Barnard said: "It's no surprise people are confused about what constitutes a heart-healthful diet. With thousands of studies published each year, we get contradictory headlines. We collaborated on this review to provide a real-time prescription based on the best available peer-reviewed research.

"In addition to eating colorful, plant-based foods, it's important to make time for sleep, exercise, and stress management, which could come in the form of social support or even listening to music.

"Diet comes first, but what we eat should fuel a heart-healthful lifestyle."

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