Gluten-free foods are not necessarily healthier choice
Despite the abundance of gluten-free foods on offer in supermarkets, they offer no health benefits to people without gluten intolerance and may even contain unhealthy substitute starches and fats, according to an Australian study.
The audit of more than 3000 packaged foods from Coles, Woolworths, ALDI and IGA shows many of those advertised as gluten-free have more kilojoules, salt, sugar and/or saturated fat than their gluten-containing counterparts, as well as less protein.
Carbohydrate-rich substitutes used in gluten-free foods are likely to be low in vitamins and minerals, say the researchers from the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney.
Their study found that gluten-free breads and breakfast cereals scored no better than gluten-containing versions on the Health Star Rating system, while gluten-free pasta scored 0.5 stars worse than regular pasta.
It also found that a large number of unhealthy foods now carried a gluten-free label, including almost 90% of processed meats, such as sausages, bacon and ham.
“This suggests that food manufacturers may be using gluten-free labelling as a tool to make unhealthy foods seem more healthy,” says lead author Dr Jason Wu, from the George Institute's food policy group.
Research suggested that 7% of Australian adults avoid wheat products, Dr Wu said, noting that previous studies had shown gluten-free products to be more expensive, and lower in iron and folate.
“The consumption of gluten-free products is unlikely to confer health benefits, unless there is clear evidence of coeliac disease, gluten intolerance or allergy to gluten-containing grains,” Dr Wu and his colleagues conclude.