For the past few years, gluten-free foods have surged in popularity, even for people who have no problems digesting gluten. But unless you absolutely need to go gluten-free due to medical conditions like celiac disease, cutting gluten from your meals may not do you any good. In fact, you might end up paying more for food that’s not as healthy, according to a new study from the United Kingdom.
For the study, researchers analyzed the cost and nutritional information of nearly 700 gluten-free products available in the U.K. and compared the data to roughly 1,000 of their gluten-filled counterparts.
After comparing 10 food categories, they found that many gluten-free foods — like bread, cereal, and crackers — contained a higher amount of fat, sugar, and salt. They were also more likely to contain less fiber and protein than regular products, two nutrients that can help you lose weight, since they help you feel fuller for longer.
What’s more, gluten-free foods were, on average, 159 percent more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts.
“Gluten-free food is unlikely to offer healthier alternatives to regular food, expect for those who require a gluten-free diet for medically diagnosed conditions,” the study authors wrote, such as celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that damages your small intestine after you eat foods containing gluten, a naturally occurring protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. But the number of people without celiac disease following a gluten-free diet more than tripled from 2010 to 2014, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
When you start swapping your favorite healthy snacks — like Greek yogurt topped with whole grain oats and fruit — for gluten-free packaged snacks, you might actually be dishing out more cash for less nutritious options.
That’s because removing gluten from your diet means you have to nix a whole lot of fiber from your meals, typically in the form of hearty-healthy whole grains.
In fact, research shows this lack of fiber in the form of a gluten-free diet may actually up your risk of type 2 diabetes.
The best thing you can do if you truly need to go gluten-free? Talk to your doc first. You really don't need to eliminate gluten unless you’re experiencing symptoms associated with celiac disease, like abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.
And if you do need to reduce the amount of gluten you’re eating? Focus on whole foods, like vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, legumes, and fruit. This way, you get what you pay for.