Have you switched to a gluten-free diet because you think it's healthier? According to Consumer Reports, it's the biggest trend in food and shows no signs of easing.
Millions of Americans who don't suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity are eating gluten-free diets in the belief it's healthier, but a new Australian study found that they may be paying a lot more for gluten-free food that actually provides little additional nutritional value when compared to regular food products.
"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," said Dr. Jason Wu of The George Institute for Global Health.
Dr. Wu examined more than 3,200 food products covering ten categories.
"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," he said.
Researchers compared the nutritional content of staple foods like breads and pastas, as well as junk foods like potato chips and cookies.
"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," he said.
"The same was the case in the discretionary foods, with almost no difference in their nutritional make-up.
"Many people need gluten-free food, but there is a growing group who are only trying it for its apparent healthiness."
According to a survey by Consumer Reports, 63 percent of Americans thought that following a gluten-free diet would improve their health.
"However," said Dr. Wu, "we found on average that gluten and gluten-free foods are just as healthy, or unhealthy as each other.
"Gluten-free products are necessary for people with celiac disease, but this information is important because of their broader use in the community."
Dr Wu said consumers should understand the "health halo effect."
"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," he said.
"Misinterpretation by consumers, especially of junk foods, that gluten-free means they are healthy is a real concern.
"Whole grains along with fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, while highly processed junk foods should be avoided."
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