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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Are Gluten-Free Foods Misleading Consumers?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Are gluten-free foods causing confusion for shoppers?


    Caption: Are consumers being misled by gluten-free foods? Photo: CC--Elaine with Grey Cats

    Celiac.com 06/13/2017 - Are consumers wrongly assuming gluten-free foods to be nutritionally equivalent to their gluten-containing counterparts? Are they being mislead?

    That's the subject of a recent talk presented at the 50th Annual Congress of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN). Among the evidence cited was that gluten-free items have a significantly higher energy content and a different nutritional composition to their gluten-containing counterparts.

    The presentation also notes that many gluten-containing products, especially breads, pastas, pizzas and wheat-based flours, contain up to three times more protein than their gluten-free counterparts.

    In all, the study assessed 654 gluten-free products, and compared them against 655 gluten-containing products. Among the group's key findings were that gluten-free breads had significantly higher content of lipids and saturated fatty acids; gluten-free pasta had significantly lower content of sugar and protein; and gluten-free biscuits had significantly lower content of protein and significantly higher content of lipids.

    These differences can have adverse effects on children's growth, and increase the risk of childhood obesity.

    The gist of the presentation is that gluten-free products cannot be considered as substitutes for their gluten-containing counterparts, and that numerous gluten-free items should reformulated using healthier ingredients to help promote healthy nutrition in children.

    Not only are gluten-free products generally poorer in their nutritional composition, but consumers may not be unaware of the crucial differences, due to poor nutritional labelling. Dr Sandra Martínez -Barona, fellow lead researcher, states that "labelling needs to clearly indicate this so that patients, parents and carers can make informed decisions. Consumers should also be provided with guidance to enhance their understanding of the nutritional compositions of products, in both gluten-free and gluten-containing products, to allow them to make more informed purchases and ensure a healthier diet is followed."

    ESPGHAN expert and lead researcher, Dr Joaquim Calvo Lerma, adds that "…it is imperative that foods marketed as substitutes are reformulated to ensure that they truly do have similar nutritional values. This is especially important for children, as a well-balanced diet is essential to healthy growth and development."

    Stay tuned to see how the gluten-free food industry responds to efforts by ESPGHAN to improve both gluten-free product formulation, and gluten-free labeling to help people make better nutritional choices.

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    Decreasing calories, sugar, saturated fat and increasing protein (and fiber) in gluten-free foods would be nice, but as long as the nutritional label accurately reflects the actual nutritional composition, that is not "misleading" consumers. It is up to consumers to actually look at the amount of protein, saturated fat, sugar, calories, etc. on the label and make sensible choices in the context of their overall diet to ensure adequate nutrition in terms of macronutrients, etc.

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    It's hard enough to get the gluten free version to taste good and have an acceptable texture/cohesiveness, without worrying about making it nutritionally equivalent to its glutinous counterparts. Pasta, bread, and baked goods are not the healthy part of anyone's diet, I don't care what the damn food pyramid says. Fresh fruits, vegetables, pulses, lean meat, and fish are the healthy parts - grains and rice provide some nutrients but are mainly filler calories. I would guess that parents of Celiac children are much more aware of their children's nutritional needs, are more likely to consult with a dietitian about their children's diet, and are probably feeding their kids more fruit, veg, and pulses to begin with!

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    I could be wrong, but I see most, if not all heavily processed food as junk food. If one wants proper nutrition, we have to eat food from the earth that has not been bastardized by over cooking and adding a bunch of vitamins later, giving it the appearance (labels are deceive) of having nutrition. Many gluten-free foods are made with rice, rice is often full of arsenic. Is that what we want to be putting in our bodies or our children's bodies?

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    "Gluten-free breads had significantly higher content of lipids and saturated" = GOOD! After my Near Death from Gluten experience, I discovered it was necessary to exercise cautious ingredient/label review. Hunger drove me to eat more saturated fat that was previously routinely trimmed away. I fry most foods in liberal amounts cold-pressed olive oil. After 6 months, I returned to the doctor's office to be told that the total cholesterol had risen but in the correct proportions: good cholesterol much higher and bad cholesterol dropped significantly. The physician asked how I had adjusted my diet. My reply was; "I increased consumption of saturated fats and fry everything in liberal amounts of olive oil." The physicians reply was; "What did you really do?"

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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