Experts have warned that replacing foods with gluten free alternatives could increase the risk of obesity, as these alternatives usually contain much higher levels of fats than the foods that they are replacing.
For those who suffer from coeliac disease a gluten-free diet is essential, however the diet is becoming increasing popular with people without a medical need for it. Researchers have expressed their concerns though, as gluten-free products have a very different nutritional make-up to conventional foods.
Joaquim Calvo Lerma, of the Instituto de Incestigación Sanitaria Le Fe in Spain and co-author of the research, said: “there is very little [consumers] can do about it, unfortunately consumers can [only] eat what is available on the market.”
The warning comes after the researchers compared 655 traditional food products to their gluten-free alternatives, in an experiment across 14 food groups including breakfast cereals, pasta and breads.
The results reveal that gluten-free products were considerably more energy-dense than their conventional equivalents.
It was discovered that, on average, loaves of gluten-free bread contained twice as much fat as regular loaves while containing only half of the protein.
Gluten-free biscuits were also discovered to be higher in fat than biscuits containing gluten, while gluten-free pasta had half of the protein found in standard pasta.
Calvo Lerma said that gluten-free foods could be a factor in an increased obesity risk and urged consumers to compare gluten-free products in order to find those with the lowest fat content.
He criticised the food manufacturers, saying: “it is the responsibility of the food industry to produce these types of gluten-free products from other materials that are much healthier or have a [more] enhanced nutritional profile than the current raw materials being used, like cornflour or potato starch.”
David Sanders, professor of gastroenterology at the University of Sheffield, was conscious to point out that this research contradicts previous studies that have found a negligible difference in the nutritional values of the products. “The jury is out,” he said.
However, Sanders did say that there was no evidence of benefits for non-coeliacs. “Once you go into the territory of dietary restrictions without medical symptoms then you are running the gauntlet of missing out on various vitamins or minerals without realising it,” he said.