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Research finds gluten-free may not be the healthiest food choice for those without coeliac disease

15 July 2015

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition by Australian researchers has analysed the health benefits of gluten-free (GF) food in comparison to non-GF foods. The findings show that GF food is unlikely to provide any additional health benefits to non-GF food and may actually prove be a more unhealthy alternative unless the consumer shows clear evidence of gluten intolerance. 

The researchers used a cross-sectional survey to analyse 3,213 food products across 10 food categories from four large supermarkets in Sydney, Australia in 2013. The nutritional information for the food products were obtained from the National Information Panel (NIP) and were classified as a GF if a GF declaration appeared on the NIP. 

The ‘health star rating’ (HSR) system, a profiling scheme used by the Australian Government, was utilised to compare the nutritional quality of the GF food against the non-GF food products to give ratings between 0.5 and 5 stars. Secondary analysis was implemented to explore differences in the content of energy (kJ), total sugars, saturated fat, protein, dietary fibre and Na per 100g between GF and non-GF food. 

The findings showed that GF products in the core food categories had similar nutritional profiles overall compared with non-GF products with an exception being notably lower average protein levels which were higher within non-GF products. However, within several food categories the GF products had lower food quality with typically higher levels of sugar, saturated fat and salt. It was clear that some GF foods have a lower average protein content indicating that ingredients rich in carbohydrates but low in protein are used including white rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch and maize starch as substitutes, also reducing the content of vitamins and minerals.

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