Going Gluten-Free May Not Be Good for Your Health:
CR survey finds 63% of Americans believe a
gluten-free diet would improve physical or mental health, FDA also says
cutting gluten isn’t always more nutritious or better for most people
No Benefits to
Consumers with celiac disease must avoid
gluten—proteins found in baked goods made with wheat and some
other grains. For people not sensitive to gluten, there is no
health benefit to a gluten-free diet. See more from FDA
Nov. 21, 2014 - Gluten, a protein found in
wheat, barley, and rye, has become the latest dietary villain, blamed
for everything from forgetfulness to joint pain to weight gain. But
Consumer Reports (CR) is shedding light on common misconceptions about
The full report, “The Truth About Gluten,” is
available online at
ConsumerReports.org and in the
January 2015 issue of Consumer Reports, which hits newsstands
The report points out that a gluten-free claim
doesn’t mean the product is necessarily more nutritious, it may actually
be less so; that consumers may increase their exposure to arsenic by
going gluten-free, and a gluten-free diet might cause weight gain—not
weight loss. And, most gluten-free foods cost more than their regular
Still, a new survey of more than 1,000 Americans
conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that
about a third of people buy gluten-free products or try to avoid
gluten. Among the top benefits they cited were better digestion and
gastrointestinal function, healthy weight loss, increased energy, lower
cholesterol, and a stronger immune system.
“While people may feel better on a gluten-free
diet, there is little evidence to support that their improved health is
related to the elimination of gluten from their diet,” said Trisha Calvo,
deputy content editor, health and food, at Consumer Reports. “Before
you decide to ride the wave of this dietary trend, consider why it might
not be a good idea.”
Unless someone has a gluten sensitivity or celiac
disease – an autoimmune condition in which gluten causes potentially
life-threatening intestinal damage – Consumer Reports says there is
little reason to eliminate gluten, and doing so may actually be a
disservice to one’s health. Less than seven percent of Americans have
A quarter of the people CR surveyed thought
gluten-free foods have more vitamins and minerals than other foods. But
CR’s review of 81 products free of gluten across 12 categories revealed
they’re a mixed bag in terms of nutrition. Many gluten-free foods
aren’t enriched or fortified with nutrients such as folic acid and iron
as many products that contain wheat flours are.
And according to CR’s survey, more than a third of
Americans think that going gluten-free will help them slim down, but
there’s very little evidence that doing so is a good weight-loss
strategy; in fact, the opposite is often true. Ditching gluten often
means adding sugar, fat, and sodium, which are often used to pump up the
flavor in these foods; these foods also might have more calories and
consuming them could cause some people to gain weight.
What Consumers Can Do
For those who must cut out gluten, Consumer Reports
recommends doing so in a healthy way and has some suggestions on how to
do so below:
1. Eat grains. For those on a gluten-free
diet or not, eating a variety of grains is healthy, so don’t cut out
whole grains. Replace wheat with amaranth, corn, millet quinoa, teff,
and the occasional serving of rice.
2. Shop the grocery store perimeter. Stick
with naturally gluten-free whole foods: fruits, vegetables, lean meat
and poultry, fish, most dairy, legumes, some grains, and nuts.
3. Read the label. Minimize the intake of
packaged foods made with refined rice or potato flours; choose those
with no-gluten, non-rice whole grains instead. When buying processed
foods, keep an eye on the sugar, fat, and sodium content of the product.
Consumer Reports’ full report on gluten also
features a list of a dozen gluten- and rice-free foods that passed
taste-tests, but cautions consumers to be mindful of nutrition.
Consumer Reports says it is the world’s largest
independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs,
auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates
thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer
Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and
other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for
health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other
consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.
Food and Drug
Administration Also Finds No Nutritional Benefit to Gluten-Free
“Eating gluten-free is not meant to be a diet
craze,” says Rhonda Kane, a registered dietitian and consumer safety
officer at FDA. “It’s a medical necessity for those who have celiac
“There are no nutritional advantages for a person
not sensitive to gluten to be on a gluten-free diet,” she adds. “Those
who are not sensitive to gluten have more flexibility and can choose
from a greater variety of foods to achieve a balanced diet.”
Gluten-free is not synonymous with low fat, low
sugar, or low sodium. For people who must be on a gluten-free diet, Kane
says it's important to check the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts
information on food labels to find the most nutritious options.
Whether as muffins, rolls, or loaves, wheat bread
is found in most households. But few consumers may appreciate the
substance that helps the dough rise, keeps the bread from falling apart,
makes it chewy, and adds to its flavor.
That substance is gluten. Breads, cakes, cereals,
pastas, and many other foods are made with wheat or added wheat gluten
to improve their baking quality and texture.
Technically, gluten represents
specific proteins that occur naturally in wheat. However, the term
“gluten” is commonly used to refer to certain proteins that occur
naturally not only in wheat, but also in rye, barley, and crossbreeds of
these grains and that can harm people who have celiac disease. The only
treatment for this disorder is a life-long gluten-free diet.
Eating gluten doesn’t bother most
consumers, but some people with celiac disease have health-threatening
reactions, says Stefano Luccioli, M.D., a Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) allergist and immunologist. They need to know whether a food
are naturally free of gluten. Here are some examples:
not flavored with ingredients that contain gluten, such as malt
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