New safefood research reveals gluten-free snack foods ‘not as healthy as people think’ 

A new research report launched recently by safefood found that while more than one-in-five people (23 per cent) surveyed buy gluten-free foods, 92 per cent of those people did not have a gluten-related disorder or had not been medically diagnosed with coeliac disease. 

Among those people surveyed, there was a misperception of the health benefits of gluten-free products; more than one-in-five people (23 per cent) thought that gluten-free products were lower in fat, 21 per cent thought they were lower in sugar, and 19 per cent considered a gluten-free diet was a healthy way to lose weight. 

The research also included a snapshot survey that looked at the nutritional content of 67 gluten-free snack foods. These snack foods included nut products and savoury snacks, cereal and baked products, and confectionery. Of all the gluten-free snack products surveyed, 75 per cent were high in fat and 69 per cent were high in sugar, with calorie levels similar to that of a standard chocolate bar.

Introducing the research, Dr Catherine Conlon, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, 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.

“We know from our survey that 92 per cent of people buying these products do not have a gluten-related disorder or have not been diagnosed with coeliac disease and therefore have no medical reason to avoid gluten in their diet. There is no consistent evidence that a gluten-free diet will improve your health if you aren’t sensitive to gluten. Many of the gluten-free snacks we surveyed are high in fat and sugar, like other treat foods.”

According to industry estimates, the gluten-free food market in Ireland was worth €66 million in 2017, an increase of 33 per cent on the previous year. Many gluten-free food products are promoted by media personalities and sports stars as part of a trend for ‘clean labels’, including ‘free-from’ food products.

The report, Cutting out gluten – the nutrient profile of gluten-free snack foods on the island of Ireland, is available to download at http://www.safefood.eu.