ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta)– The gluten-free lifestyle is just about everywhere these days, but new research has found that differences between the actual nutritional value are small or even nonexistent.
The George Institute for Global Health lead author Dr. Jason Wu says the study looked at over 3,200 products across ten food categories.
“There has been a tidal wave of gluten-free products coming onto the market in recent years and many people have been caught in the wash as they search for a healthier diet,” Dr. Wu says.
Dr. Wu says these foods can be significantly more expensive and popular in stores, but that the difference in overall nutrition is not compelling.
“Gluten-free products are necessary for people with coeliac disease, but this information is important because of their broader use in the community,” Dr. Wu notes.
The new research compared nutritional information from staple foods, like bread and pasta, as well as less diet-friendly foods like potato chips, biscuits, and candy.
“In the core foods we found significantly lower levels of protein in gluten-free foods, but the remaining content such as sugar and sodium was actually very similar… The same was the case in the discretionary foods, with almost no difference in their nutritional make-up,” Dr. Wu explains.
While a gluten-free diet is necessary for some because of food allergy or disease, many other people have also adapted to the lifestyle solely for nutritional benefits.
“We found on average that gluten and gluten-free foods are just as healthy, or unhealthy as each other,” Wu warns the public, saying to be careful of the “health halo effect.”
Dr. Wu’s nutritional advice?
“Whole grains along with fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, while highly processed junk foods should be avoided,” he says.
The research indicates that consumers should be careful not to assume something is healthy just because it is gluten-free.