Gluten-free products are no better for you, claims study

By Oliver Haenlein

- Last updated on GMT

Gluten-free health credentials overhyped, finds study. Photo credit: M Dreibelbis
Gluten-free health credentials overhyped, finds study. Photo credit: M Dreibelbis

Related tags: Gluten-free diet, Nutrition, Health

Despite a surge in popularity for gluten-free (GF) products, they are no healthier than their glutenous counterparts, according to new research from The George Institute for Global Health.

The medical research organization analyzed the nutritional content of a “wide range” of GF and non-GF products in Australian supermarkets. It found that “the consumption of GF products is unlikely to confer health benefits, unless there is clear evidence of coeliac disease, gluten intolerance or allergy to gluten-containing grains”.

The George Institute report said the research had been carried out since despite tremendous growth in the consumption of GF foods, there is a lack of evaluation of their nutritional profile and how they compare with non-GF foods”.  

Negligible differences

In the recent Nielsen Global Health and Wellness Survey, 21% of respondents looking for health benefits from their food said GF products are ‘very important’. Furthermore, Mintel research found a 63% increase in sales in the GF food market in the US between 2012 and 2014.

However, the George Institute research, led by Dr Jason Wu, suggests that there are “negligible” ​differences in health benefits between GF and non-GF foods. The only obvious benefits were for those people with coeliac disease, it found.

Wu said: “There has been a tidal wave of gluten-free products coming onto the market in recent years and many people have been caught in the wash as they search for a healthier diet. The foods can be significantly more expensive and are very trendy to eat, but we discovered a negligible difference when looking at their overall nutrition.

“Gluten-free products are necessary for people with coeliac disease, but this information is important because of their broader use in the community. We found on average that gluten and gluten-free foods are just as healthy, or unhealthy as each other.”

Unwarranted GF labeling

The report said GF labeling was likely being used to infer unwarranted healthiness, and it expressed concern about the removal of grains like wheat, rye and barley from diets since they are “important sources of nutrients”.​ It added that GF products in the core categories, such as breads, had overall similar nutritional profiles compared with non-GF products, with the notable exception being that GF products had lower average protein levels.

The Institute’s study concluded: “Given the adverse health effects caused by poor diets in Australia and other parts of the world, policy initiatives should target increased consumption of core foods such as whole grains, fruit and vegetables and reduced consumption of discretionary foods (GF or otherwise) as a public health priority.”

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