Report Reveals Gluten-Free Snack Foods Aren't As Healthy as People Think

Research shows more than 1 in 5 people incorrectly think gluten-free products are lower in fat and sugar.

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DUBLIN, Ireland — A new research report¹ launched today by safefood found that while more than 1 in 5 people (23 percent) surveyed buy gluten-free foods, 92% of those people did not have a gluten-related disorder or had not been medically diagnosed with coeliac disease. Among those people surveyed, there was a misperception of the health benefits of gluten-free products; more than 1 in 5 people (23 percent) thought that gluten-free products were lower in fat, 21 percent thought they were lower in sugar and 19 percent considered a gluten-free diet was a healthy way to lose weight.

The safefood research also included a snapshot survey that looked at the nutritional content of 67 gluten-free snack foods. These snack foods included nut products and savory snacks, cereal and baked products, and confectionery. Of all the gluten-free snack products surveyed, 75 percent were high in fat and 69 percent were high in sugar, with calorie levels similar to a standard chocolate bar.

Introducing the research, Dr. Catherine Conlon, Director of Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said: "For those people who have a diagnosis of coeliac disease or those with a gluten-related disorder, avoiding gluten in their daily diet is an absolute must. However, we would have a concern that some of these snack foods have an unhealthy nutritional profile for everyone, whether or not they have a gluten-related disorder. Snacking on foods such as fruit and vegetables, unsalted plain nuts and gluten-free rice cakes and cheese, are healthier options for us all."

“We know from our survey that 92 percent of people buying these products do not have a gluten-related disorder or have not been diagnosed with coeliac disease and therefore have no medical reason to avoid gluten in their diet," Dr. Conlon added. "There is no consistent evidence that a gluten-free diet will improve your health if you aren’t sensitive to gluten. Many of the gluten-free snacks we surveyed are high in fat and sugar like other treat foods."

According to industry estimates², the gluten-free food market in Ireland was worth $73 million in 2017, an increase of 33 percent from the previous year. Many gluten-free foods products are promoted by media personalities and sports stars as part of a trend for “clean label”, including “free-from” food products..

"Similar to recent trends we’ve seen with high-protein foods, gluten-free food is big business with an audience of people willing to purchase these products,” Dr. Conlon said. “In the case of gluten-free snacks, you could end up purchasing snack foods with lots of added fat and sugar which are of no added benefit to your health."

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