Gluten-Free“So many more people are buying gluten-free products now than actually need them.”

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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A new report from Safe Food has revealed that 90% of people who buy gluten-free foods do not have a gluten-related disorder or celiac disease. They buy these products in the mistaken belief that they’re lower in fat and sugar and will help them lose weight. Regular Today programme dietician, Louise Reynolds, from the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, spoke to Seán O’Rourke this morning and told him that she wasn’t surprised by the findings of the report:

“I’d probably use the word ‘trend’ here, in terms of the increase in people buying gluten-free products who don’t need to.”

Louise clarified that people who have medically-diagnosed celiac disease do need to always avoid gluten and that is the treatment for their condition and it’s a very successful one. But the report shows that celiacs are in the minority in buying gluten-free foods:

“In fact so many more people are buying gluten-free products now than actually need them.”

Seán asked if a gluten-free diet would have any health benefits for anyone who isn’t sensitive to gluten. Louise’s answer? No it won’t. In fact, Safe Food analysed many gluten-free snack foods and found that 75% were high in fat and about 70% were high in sugar, with calories similar to a standard chocolate bar.

“So, for somebody who is going into a coffee shop and thinking, ‘Ok, I’m going to buy that gluten-free brownie there because it’s gluten-free’. Therefore it is being perceived as being a healthier option.”

The fact that there are so many more gluten-free products available in a wider range of shops and restaurants is good news for celiacs, Louise told Seán, but for people who don’t have celiac disease, these products are usually more expensive than similar regular foods and they have no significant health benefits. But, says Seán, a lot of people say they feel better following a gluten-free diet. Yes, replies Louise, that’s because science:

“Sometimes there can be crossover, some foods which contain gluten, you might cut them out and you might a little bit better, but you’re staying on this very restrictive diet, when in fact it’s not the gluten, it might be something else in those foods that’s causing the problem.”

Louise’s advice, if you’re feeling like you might have some class of wheat intolerance, or if you’re worried about Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or even celiac disease, is not to self-diagnose, but rather to go and see a registered dietician. Because, let’s face it, science generally trumps intuition, right?

You can hear Louise’s full chat with Seán here.

Niall Ó Sioradáin

© The Listener 2020

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