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Image / Editorial

Why going gluten-free isn’t actually that good for you (unless you’re coeliac, of course)

by Grace McGettigan
28th Feb 2020

If you haven’t been diagnosed with coeliac disease, you really shouldn’t be going gluten-free. Here’s why

Many people in Ireland think gluten-free snacks are healthier options than other food choices – but new research by SafeFood shows that’s not the case.

Despite more than one in every five people buying gluten-free foods in their weekly shop, an incredible 92% of them have never been medically diagnosed with coeliac disease, nor do they have a gluten-related disorder. It seems a number of them (20% to be exact), think a gluten-free diet is a healthy way to lose weight.

However, SafeFood has said 75% of gluten-free snack foods are high in fat, while 69% are high in sugar. They even have calorie levels similar to a standard chocolate bar. The research, which was carried out on 2,000 consumers, surveyed 67 gluten-free snack foods in major supermarkets across Ireland (with the nutritional research based on the products’ own label information).

What is gluten?

Gluten is the general name for proteins found in wheat, barley and rye, and it helps food to hold its shape (acting as a type of glue). If someone has coeliac disease, the presence of gluten in their foods can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhoea and bloating.

Dr Catherine Conlon, who is the director of human health and nutrition at 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,” she advised.

“There is no consistent evidence that a gluten-free diet will improve your health if you aren’t sensitive to gluten,” Dr Conlon continued. “Many of the gluten-free snacks we surveyed are high in fat and sugar like other treat foods.”

Considering the fact that gluten-free foods are often more expensive than their alternatives (with the Irish gluten-free market worth €66 million), it may be healthier for both your body and wallet to choose the non-gluten-free options going forward.

Photo: Pexels

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