There are many claims that a gluten free diet is healthier. But is this actually true? Find out from Dietitian Bethany Florey as she investigates.
What is a gluten free diet? ‘
This includes avoiding foods such as pasta, bread, pizza, cake, biscuits and any other gluten containing foods. Gluten can be hidden in foods such as sausages and sauces, so make sure to always check the label if you are advised to avoid gluten (click here for more information) (1).
Why would someone be on a gluten free diet?
A lifelong gluten free diet is the treatment for those individuals with coeliac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis (5).
Some individuals suffer from non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. This is not an autoimmune disease, however the gut can react to products containing wheat, rye or barley (2).Therefore, these individuals will benefit from a reduction in these types of products.
Unfortunately, current scientific evidence does not support this rationale and therefore it is only advised for those people with coeliac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, or a sensitivity to gluten, to avoid it from their diet.
A Comparison of Some Key Gluten Free Products
|Hovis medium Sliced wholemeal bread (800g)||Sainbury’s|
|Price per 100g||11p||43p||52p||75g|
|Fat per 100g||1.8g||5.5g||6.6g||5g|
|Saturated fat per 100g||0.4g||0.6g||0.5g||0.6g|
|Salt per 100g||0.9g||0.96g||0.9g||1g|
I compared a standard brown loaf with that of a gluten free brown loaf as an example of the differences in cost, fat, salt content of these products.
Why do gluten free products contain more sugar, salt and why are they more expensive?
Gluten free products can often be higher in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar. The reason for this is often due to extra ingredients being added to improve the overall taste and texture of the product (2).
Some studies suggest that the higher amounts of some ingredients may also be required due to chemical differences in using grains which are naturally gluten free, in particular higher amounts of fat may be required in order replace the role of gluten in the product (2).
Prescriptions – the changing nature of the GF prescription
Your GP can sometimes prescribe staple gluten free products if you have been clinically diagnosed with coeliac disease (6).
However, in England the prescribing rights are currently changing, some commissioning groups are restricting or withdrawing the products which are able to be prescribed by your GP (6).
In Northern Ireland, gluten free products continue to be prescribed by your GP (6).
Overall, if you do not have a medical reason for following a gluten free diet then it is currently not advised for you to do so. Gluten free diets can be more expensive and higher in some nutrients such as fat, salt and sugar. However if you do have a medical diagnosis which means you are advised to follow a gluten free diet, then it is certainly healthier to do so.
Written by Dietitian Bethany Florey
Reviewed & edited by Dietitian Kirsten Crothers