Following a gluten-free diet has become increasingly popular.
Even people who don’t suffer from celiac disease — an autoimmune illness where the body is unable to absorb gluten — follow a gluten-free diet. In grocery stores across the United States there are an abundance of gluten-free products in order to cater to this growing trend.
Advocates of a gluten-free diet say it can help people feel better, lose weight and have more energy. However, eating gluten-free substitute foods, such as gluten-free bread, might actually cause people to gain weight, according to a study from the Research Group on Celiac Disease and Digestive Immunopathology at the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria La Fe, Valencia.
Many gluten-free products found in grocery stores often contain higher levels of fats than the foods they are replacing. The researchers warn that this may lead to weight gain, especially in children.
“Where nutritional values of gluten-free products do vary significantly from their gluten-containing counterparts, such as having higher levels of saturated fat, labeling needs to clearly indicate this so that patients, parents, and carers can make informed decisions,” said Dr. Martínez-Barona who helped lead the study.
The study compared 655 food products to 654 gluten-free alternatives across 14 food groups, including breads, pasta, cereals and ready meals. They found that, in general, the gluten-free products were more energy-dense than their counterparts. For example, gluten-free pasta had lower levels of sugar, but just half the protein of regular pasta.
The researchers warn that these foods may contribute to childhood obesity, because children are more likely to eat breakfast cereals and pastas. They also urged manufacturers to clearly label these products so that parents can make informed decisions.
“As more and more people are following a gluten-free diet to effectively manage celiac disease, it is imperative that foods marketed as substitutes are reformulated to ensure that they truly do have similar nutritional values,” said Dr. Joaquim Calvo Lerma of the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria La Fe in Spain who also helped lead the study. “This is especially important for children, as a well-balanced diet is essential to healthy growth and development.”
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.