Gluten-free foods, are they the healthier option?

Gluten-free foods and diets have been growing in popularity for a number of years. In fact, reports show that up to 5% of Western societies are following a gluten-free diet of their own accord, while 13% self-report some sensitivity to gluten-containing products. But is it really a healthier option? The reality is gluten-free is not healthier unless you have gluten allergy or intolerance, like coeliac disease. 

What is gluten-free?

A gluten-free diet involves excluding the intake of all food products containing gluten, which is in proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. This includes foods such as bread, pasta, crackers, cakes, salad dressings, gravies and sauces. 

When should you be gluten-free?

The main reason why people follow a gluten-free diet is due to a clinically diagnosed gluten allergy, otherwise known as coeliac disease. This involves an inflammatory response in the body after consuming gluten. The levels of sensitivity differ, where some people can’t even tolerate traces of gluten in food products.

The bottom line

There is little evidence suggesting any particular health benefits of a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free diets are no healthier than a balanced diet and unnecessary excluding products like with gluten are missed opportunities for gaining essential micronutrients. 

Commercially produced gluten-free products tend to be lower in fibre and are often high in refined sugars, fat and salt. They are also low in essential vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, iron, vitamin D and calcium. Therefore gluten-free diets are only recommended for those people who have a gluten allergy or sensitivity diagnosed by a medical practitioner. 

If you are experiencing any discomfort or altered gastrointestinal symptoms after consuming gluten-containing products, there may be other compounds in the food that may be the cause of these problems.  Please see a registered dietitian for personalized advice.  

This blog post was co-written by Amy Gibson, registered dietitian, and Jessica Wolff, a Nutrition and Dietetics student at the University of Queensland.