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Are gluten-free products healthier?

You may look at this question and think the answer is simple, but as an increasing number of consumers buy into the gluten-free trend, new research suggests that gluten-free products are not always a healthy alternative to regular ones.

You only have to look at the supermarket shelves to see that consumers, who may not suffer from Coeliac disease, are demanding more gluten-free varieties from manufacturers across the globe. This is evidenced on our sister website, Sweets & Savoury Snacks World, with recent gluten-free product launches including Too Good To Be Gluten Free’s snack packs, which include cocktail sausages and mini Scotch eggs, as well as Eat Real’s new Organic Hummus Chips, Organic Lentil Chips and Organic Veggie Straws.

But, a new study by Netherlands-based consumer association Consumentenbond, which tested gluten-free variants, found that they contain more fat, sugar and/or salt and less fibre than similar products with gluten.

Comparing the ingredient list of five A-brand products with their gluten-free variants, the study found that Wasa gluten-free crispbread contains six times as much fat and two times as much as the whole grain variety. Koopman’s gluten-free pancake mix, meanwhile, is ​​twice as salty as the six-grain pancake mix. In addition, Peijnenburg gluten-free contains 100g of 30 kilocalories more than the ‘ordinary’ Peijnenburg breakfast cake.

By using products other than flour, almost all of the gluten-free products tested contain less fibre than gluten counterparts. The gluten-free Koopmans pancake mix contains seven times less fibre than the six-grain mix, while the Wasa gluten-free crackers contain only one third of the fibres in the whole grain version.

The association is recommending consumers look closely at the nutritional value of gluten-free versions.

The study also showed that the gluten-free products examined are often more expensive than their gluten counterparts. For example, Albert Heijn’s gluten-free straw waffles are converted to €0.37 a piece, while the ordinary straw waffles cost €0.11.

As a result, manufacturers may need to adapt their product recipes even further to make them healthier than those containing gluten.

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