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Gluten-Free Foods Found to Have High Levels of Arsenic and Mercury 


Going gluten-free has become the rage in the U.S., but it has a serious downside. A new study finds these food products contain toxic metals that increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurological problems.

Doctors recommend the gluten-free diet for people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the gluten protein in wheat, rye and barley to damage the small intestine. Although less than 1 percent of the American populace has been diagnosed with this disorder, 25 percent consumed gluten-free foods in 2015.

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Gluten-Free Dieters Had Double the Arsenic and 70 Percent More Mercury

In the study, scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Chicago, Dartmouth University and the University of Michigan analyzed data from 7,471 individuals in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey taken between 2009 and 2014. Of these, 73 people were on a gluten-free diet.

Test results from blood and urine samples revealed the eating plan was associated with markedly increased exposure to toxic metals. The arsenic levels were nearly 50-percent higher and mercury levels were 70-percent higher in the gluten-free group than in those on a conventional diet.

“These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet,” said study author Maria Argos, assistant professor of epidemiology in the UIC School of Public Health, in a university news release.

Why Are Gluten-Free Food Products Toxic?

The problem stems from the fact that rice is commonly used as a substitute for wheat in gluten-free foods. Rice absorbs metals from soil, fertilizers and water. In fact, it contains up to ten times more arsenic than other foods. Brown rice, which is rich in nutrients and fiber, has even greater quantities of arsenic and mercury than white rice because its outer coating isn’t removed in the milling process. The gluten-free pastas, breads and cereals found in supermarkets are made with this toxic rice flour.

“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.”

The report was published in the journal Epidemiology.

Gluten-Free Diet Versus Gluten-Free Food Products

For people with celiac disease, gluten can be deadly. However, it’s possible to follow a gluten-free diet without consuming toxic rice flour. Many foods are naturally gluten-free. These include fruits, vegetables, most dairy products, fresh eggs, fresh unbreaded beef, poultry and fish, unprocessed beans, seeds and nuts. In addition, several grains are gluten-free such as cornmeal, millet, quinoa, flax, buckwheat and amaranth.

The toxicity problem comes from eating processed food products labeled “gluten-free” because most are made with rice flour. An additional drawback to these products is that manufacturers tend to add sugar, fat and calories to compensate for the flavor lost from removing gluten.

How to Reduce Exposure to Toxic Metals in Rice

Regardless of whether or not you want to go gluten-free, it’s good to know how to reduce your exposure to arsenic and mercury in rice. Soaking rice overnight and discarding the liquid before cooking can reduce toxicity. Consumer Reports also recommends cooking 1 cup of rice in 6 cups of water and draining the liquid before serving.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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