Gluten-free foods are not generally healthier than regular foods despite being considerably more expensive, according to a study by the University of Hertfordshire.
Researchers compared over 1,700 food products and found that gluten-free foods had more fat, salt and sugar and less fibre and protein than other products. The only exception were crackers.
They also found that the median cost of gluten-free brown and white bread and white and wholegrain flour was more than four times the price of regular equivalents.
Researchers said that could “impact on adherence to a gluten-free diet for individuals with coeliac disease.” Indeed, gluten-free foods overall were 159% more expensive than regular food equivalents.
The findings were concerning given the government’s desire to stop gluten-free foods on prescription. The charity Coeliac UK has been campaigning to ensure gluten-free products remain available on prescription for people with coeliac disease.
Researchers, however, found that gluten-free did not necessarily mean healthier. The median total fat content for gluten-free brown bread and white bread was more than double that of regular products.
Gluten-free products also had significantly lower protein content than regular equivalents across nine of 10 food categories.
In total of 1,724 food items from 10 food categories were analysed from Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrison, Asda and online food retailer Ocado. Products included brown bread, white bread, white flour, wholegrain flour, breakfast cereals, wholegrain pasta, regular pasta, pizza bases, crackers and biscuits. The study was published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
Dr Rosalind Fallaize, research fellow in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “We found that gluten-free foods were significantly more expensive than regular items which is very concerning given the movement towards stopping gluten-free prescriptions for people with Coeliac disease.
“It’s also clear from our research that gluten-free foods don’t offer any nutritional advantages over regular foods so are not a healthier alternative for people who do not require a gluten-free diet.”