There’s another new reason to rethink ditching gluten, unless you’re bona fide gluten-intolerant. A new study says the trendy diet could expose adherents to high levels of two different toxic metals. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at 73 people who reported eating gluten-free for five years, and they essentially found a direct correlation between the amount of gluten-free food a person consumes and the amount of bad metals in that individual’s body. Per their findings, subjects with the highest concentrations had double the arsenic, a metal used in pesticides and herbicides that was used to make Agent Blue during the Vietnam War, and 70 percent more mercury than the average person.
The authors explain this greater risk for people who avoid gluten is because they eat loads of rice flour. Rice plants are weirdly talented at sucking substances out of the surrounding soil, and storing them for ages — in fact, scientists estimate they are about ten times better at it than other grain plants. Combine that natural talent with all the artificial industrial contaminants and pesticides farmers used for many years in rice-paddy fields, and you’ve got a small problem. The authors note extra research is necessary to know how dangerous consuming large quantities of these metals might be, but they say calling it the “unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet” is definitely fair. For what it’s worth, the USDA suggests pregnant women and infants should limit the arsenic in their foods, but a quarter of Americans still say they continue to eat gluten-free food.