A new Australian study of more than 3200 gluten-free supermarket products has found little or no difference in their nutritional value when compared to standard items.
“There has been a tidal wave of gluten-free products coming on to the market in recent years and many people have been caught in the wash as they search for a healthier diet,” lead author Dr Jason Wu, from The George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney, said.
“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.”
Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton agrees, saying many people think if a product is gluten-free it must be all right but “gluten-free junk food is still junk food”.
“Just about every junk food in the book these days has a gluten-free version,” she told AAP. “It is interesting to look at some of the food marketing magazine which promote (gluten-free versions) as a great way to increase your business.”
The research, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, compared the nutritional content in foods such as breads and pasta that were staples in a balanced diet, as well as junk foods such as potato chips, biscuits and lollies.
“In the core foods we found significantly lower levels of protein in gluten-free foods, but the remaining content such as sugar and sodium was actually very similar,” Dr Wu said.
The researchers also found almost no difference in the nutritional make-up of the junk foods.
“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,” they concluded.
“Fancy labels on gluten-free foods have the potential to be used as a marketing tactic, even on products that traditionally don’t have any gluten in them anyway.”