As more people are adopting gluten-free diets, the findings from a recent study conducted by the Digestive Immunopathology at the Instituto de Investigacion Sanitaria Le Fe and Researcher Group on Celiac Disease reveals that gluten-free products are lacking in nutritional content.
The research team compared the nutritional content of gluten-containing and gluten-free foods. Gluten is a protein commonly found in rye, barely and grain. Gluten should be avoided by individuals who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that is often triggered by dietary gluten. According to government data, an estimated 1 percent of the European population has celiac disease, as well as three million people in the United States.
While most people avoid gluten due to gluten intolerance or celiac disease, there are others that are choose to omit it from their diet because gluten-free is perceived to be healthier. Gluten intolerance is different than celiac disease or gluten sensitivity in that it does not cause damage to the small intestine.
In the new study, the researchers compared the nutritional contents of 655 gluten-containing foods to that of 654 gluten-free food products.
When the research team made the comparisons, it was discovered that the gluten-free food items had a higher energy content than foods containing gluten. In addition to that finding, it was discovered that gluten-containing foods had three times more protein than gluten-free foods.
Pizza, pasta, flour and bread had an unusually higher protein content. When omitting this nutritional content from the child’s diet, it could potentially have a negative impact on their growth and development. The deficiencies of gluten-free foods discovered by the research team could pose an increased risk of obesity in children.
Co-author of the study, Dr. Joaquim Calvo Lerma, said, “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. This is especially important for children, as a well-balanced diet is essential to healthy growth and development.”
Children with growth delays, which impacts approximately 10 percent of the youth population, for no apparent reason may be suffering quietly from celiac disease.
The findings also revealed that breads without gluten had significantly more saturated fats and lipids, while pasta without gluten had lower sugar content than pasta with gluten. Biscuits without gluten had noticeably more lipids and less protein than biscuits containing gluten.
The researchers note that clearer labeling may be required to prevent consumers from being misinformed about nutritional values of gluten-free food items.
The study will be presented on May 11, 2017 at the 50th Annual Congress of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition meeting.