Northern Ireland consumer misperceptions of ‘healthy’ gluten-free foods revealed

safefood research reveals almost 1 in 7 people consider a gluten-free diet a healthy way to lose weight; 

yet survey reveals 75% of gluten-free snack foods were high in fat and 69% high in sugar

More than 1 in 6 people in Northern Ireland buy gluten-free foods, despite 92% of those surveyed not being diagnosed with coeliac disease or a gluten-related disorder.

A new research report¹ launched today by safefood has revealed a number of misperceptions of the health benefits of gluten-free products with some people cutting gluten from their daily diet in an attempt to improve their health.

The findings revealed that more than 1 in 7 people across Northern Ireland considered a gluten-free diet a healthy way to lose weight, with 17% of people thinking that gluten-free products are lower in fat than foods that contain gluten and a further 17% thinking they contained less amounts of sugar.

The safefood research included an analysis of the nutritional content of 67 gluten-free snack foods, including nut products and savoury snacks, cereal and baked products, and confectionery. The results found that 75% of all gluten-free snack products were high in fat and 69% were high in sugar, with calorie levels similar to a standard chocolate bar.

Introducing the research, Joana Da Silva, Dietitian with 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, there is no consistent evidence that a gluten-free diet will improve your health if you aren’t sensitive to gluten. Yet, we know from our survey that over 90% 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.

“We are concerned that a majority of gluten-free snack products have an unhealthy nutritional profile for everyone, whether or not they have a gluten-related disorder. Many of the gluten-free snacks we surveyed are high in fat and sugar like other treat foods. Snacking on foods such as fruit and vegetables, unsalted plain nuts and gluten-free rice cakes and cheese, are healthier options for us all,”

Safefood Gluten Free

According to industry estimates², the gluten-free food market in the UK was worth £438 million in 2016, an increase of 36% on the previous year. Many gluten-free food products are promoted by media personalities and sports stars as part of a trend for ‘clean label’, including ‘free-from’, food products.

Ms Da Silva added: “Similar to recent trends we’ve seen with high-protein foods, gluten-free food is big business. In the case of gluten-free snacks, you could end up purchasing snack foods with lots of added fat and sugar which are of no added benefit to your health.”

The report “Cutting out Gluten – the nutrient profile of gluten-free snack foods on the island of Ireland” is available to download at www.safefood.eu

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