Gone are the days when free-from foods catered only to the market of consumers with dietary intolerances. Now, the sales of such products, which seemingly have a ‘healthy halo’ around them, are also gaining popularity among health-conscious consumers in developed countries.
The Hype Around Gluten-Free Products
Back in the day, you could only find gluten-free foods in the health-food stores but now they are suddenly showing up everywhere from restaurant menus to local supermarkets.
This is certainly good news for those suffering from allergies to gluten, a special protein found in most breads and pastas made from wheat, rye or barley, but for others, these high-priced foods are more of a curse than blessing.
Nutritionists have also begun to voice their frustration on the subject saying that people switching from regular to expensive gluten-free diets without having any signs of allergies shouldn’t expect a difference in their health apart from an apparent lack of fiber which can restrict bowel movement and cause constipation. None of the claims linking gluten-free to weight loss, increased energy or treatment of autism have any scientific evidence behind them.
Popular… but Effective?
Gluten-free diet is essential for those with coeliac disease and other dietary intolerances, but the same isn’t the case for others. Even 50 milligrams of gluten can trigger a reaction in those with coeliac disease leading to serious health conditions like seizures and nerve damage. Gluten sensitivity usually occurs due to the presence of antibodies that work against trans-glutaminase, and the condition can easily be identified by a blood test.
Last year stats suggested that a majority of the sales of free-from foods – which also include gluten-free – came from consumers with no medical conditions or allergies, indicating that people are becoming more conscious about their diets and making smarter choices when it comes to food.
The fastest growing categories in the free-from product range were gluten-free and dairy-free which experienced a 12.9% and 13.4% growth rate respectively. But despite the growth in popularity of gluten-free products, researchers are saying that they don’t necessarily have a positive impact on health.
A study conducted to determine the nutrient content of different regular products and their gluten-free alternatives present on the market was first published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. What the researchers discovered by comparing the prices and nutritional value of different products was that gluten-free diet wasn’t any better than regular diet. In fact, there were potential downsides of following such a lifestyle including the hefty prices attached to gluten-free products.
The Downside of Gluten-Free Diets
Going gluten-free can cause a number of deficiencies since it calls for the elimination of all sorts of breads, pizzas, pastas, cereals and even beer from your diet. Other foods such as soy sauce and frozen vegetables can also have traces of gluten present in them. Researchers say that there is no scientific evidence that should compel healthy individuals with no gluten allergies to reduce or eliminate gluten products from their diets.
Moreover, these seemingly healthy alternatives contain far less fiber and protein in them. Breads and pastas which market themselves as gluten-free are commonly made with a mixture of rice, tapioca and corn flour that don’t contain the essential vitamins that regular fortified products such as cereals which are rich in vitamin B12 and folic acid.
People assume that gluten-free products are healthier, but on the contrary, they contain higher fat, sugar and salt content than their regular counterparts.
One of the biggest disadvantages of gluten-free products is the high costs associated with them which makes it hard for people to afford this diet. According to the study, most gluten-free alternatives were almost 159% more expensive than the regular foods with the most expensive food items being gluten-free pastas and breads.
The increasing demand of the free-from products is driving up their prices making it hard for people who actually need them for survival – those with coeliac and other allergies – to afford the allergen-free foods.