Media reports on nutritional content of gluten free food
11 May 2017
Media reports on 11 May highlight the disparity between the fat and protein content of gluten containing foods and their gluten free equivalents and how these could potentially be contributing to obesity and issues with children’s growth, because consumers assume that gluten free means healthier food. Some of the reports are very alarmist suggesting all gluten-free replacement products have worse nutritional levels than their conventional counterparts or even the gluten-free diet is unhealthy as a whole.
The reports are based on a Spanish study and the findings are similar to data we have for UK products showing that gluten free fresh breads are on average higher in fat and that gluten free products can be lower in protein. Lower protein levels are unsurprising, given the ingredients used to replace wheat flour, but as most of these products are not seen as a major protein source in people’s diet, the differing levels between gluten free and conventional products should not be a major concern for consumers – although it shouldn’t stop manufacturers striving for more nutritious products.
Higher fat levels in gluten free breads is more concerning. The use of fats enabled the development of fresh gluten free breads and over the last few years manufacturers have been innovating and reformulating to bring down the fat levels. We continue to support this development as access to quality bread products is considered extremely important to people with coeliac disease in maintaining a very difficult diet day in day out for the rest of their lives.
On a positive note, sugar is frequently cited as a concern but this research is also in line with UK data on sugar content, showing gluten free foods don’t contain any more sugar than conventional equivalent products which will be reassuring for people who need to live gluten free.
You can find tell from a food label (as pictured) whether a food is high or low in fat, sugar, saturates and salt to help you make healthier choices.
It is also important to note that whilst these articles can cause concern, the research quoted is looking at individual gluten free products in comparison to gluten-containing equivalents, and not at the gluten free diet as a whole, which is made up of a much broader range of foods. The findings also show average values. Just as in conventional foods, there are variations in ingredients between individual gluten free products which can provide the consumer with choice about nutritional aspects of their diet.
The Government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) explores the diets of the UK population but it does not recognise people with coeliac disease. We are developing our own Coeliac Diet and Nutrition Survey (CDNS) linking up with the University of Newcastle to gather information about dietary intake which will give us a much better view of gluten free diets as a whole and the potential impact of any differences in the nutritional value of individual components of the diet such as gluten free breads, flours and pastas. If you are interested in getting involved in this research please visit: www.coeliac.org.uk/cdns/.