Avoiding gluten is not the kind of eating habit that raises any eyebrows—as a known inflammatory food, wheat is one of the first things an integrative physician might recommend cutting out of your diet to try to solve bloating and other digestive woes. (Though food activist Michael Pollan would tell you to dig into the bread basket—as long as it’s fermented.)
That’s why the latest research on the downside to gluten-free eating is surprising, to say the least. Published in Epidemiology, a new study finds that gluten-free eaters have higher levels of arsenic and mercury in their blood. Yikes.
The reason? It could have to do with rice, The New York Times reports. Maria Argos, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the study’s senior researcher, notes that those who avoid gluten tend to eat more rice and foods with rice syrup as a sweetener—and the grain actually absorbs metals from water, soil, and fertilizer. Though they aren’t toxic levels—and everyone has some amount of mercury and arsenic in their blood—the levels among the gluten-free participants were higher than what’s considered normal.
So, going gluten-free itself is not a danger. But relying too heavily on rice as a replacement for wheat possibly could be, researchers say. Thankfully, there are other delicious grain options that don’t present any arsenic or mercury issues. (Phew.) Cauli rice, anyone?
There are other ways improve your digestion, like these three gut-healing snack recipes that will get you through the afternoon—or you this wellness practice, which could solve your gastrointestinal issues for good.