A new study from Australia’s The George Institute for Global Health revealed that not only are most gluten-free foods unnecessary for most people, they aren’t all that healthy and may be more expensive.
Gluten sensitivity and the more rare celiac disease affect only a small percentage of people, yet the gluten-free market is exploding in all categories. According to the New York Times, as many as one in three people try to avoid gluten in products, but the chance of being diagnosed with celiac disease is one in 133.
Researchers, led by Dr. Jason Wu, compared a number of gluten-free products with comparable glutinous alternatives in categories including bread, pasta, crackers, cookies and candy. “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,” Dr. Wu said in a statement. “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.”
Dr. Wu also pointed to a “health halo effect,” a term that means we often opt for something we think is healthier for us, even without doing research on whether that food (or product) will offer us any real benefits.
“Many people need gluten-free food, but there is a growing group who are only trying it for its apparent healthiness,” said Dr. Wu. “However, we found on average that gluten and gluten-free foods are just as healthy, or unhealthy as each other.”
Still, a growing number of products are bearing gluten-free labels—even foods that historically never contained gluten.
“Misinterpretation by consumers, especially of junk foods, that ‘gluten-free’ means they are healthy is a real concern,” said Dr. Wu. “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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