Gluten-free products have significantly different nutritional composition than their counterparts that contain gluten, which could especially impact children with celiac disease, according to research presented at the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition annual meeting.
Investigators said that gluten-free foods should be reformulated to be more nutritious, and that the labels on gluten-free products should more clearly indicate when their nutritional content varies significantly from their gluten-containing counterparts.
“Globally, gluten-free products have a significantly lower protein content than their gluten-containing counterparts probably explained by the raw flours used in their elaboration, which are naturally higher carbohydrate, low protein,” Sandra Martínez-Barona, MD, of the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria La Fe in Valencia, Spain, said during her presentation. “Gluten-free breads show a significantly higher lipid and saturated fatty acid content than their gluten-containing counterparts which is justified by the added fats used for their elaboration.”
The researchers performed a cross-sectional study based on the nutritional labels of 621 gluten-free products made by 54 brands, and 600 gluten-containing counterpart products made by 95 brands.
“As labels did not contain information on micronutrients, these have not been analyzed,” Martínez-Barona said.
They found that gluten-free products had slightly higher energy content than their gluten-containing counterparts in general, and the main difference was that gluten-containing foods had up to two or three times as much protein content, particularly flours, breads, pastas and pizza. Gluten-free products had an average of 5.1 grams of protein per serving compared with 8.5 grams in their gluten-containing counterparts (P = .003).
Further, gluten-free breads had significantly higher lipid and saturated fat content, gluten-free pasta had lower sugar content and half the protein content, and gluten-free biscuits had higher lipid content and lower protein content compared with their gluten-containing counterparts.
A higher number of gluten-free breads contained palm oil and sunflower oil than gluten-containing breads, and a higher number of gluten-free biscuits contained palm oil as well.
“Gluten-free products cannot be considered in terms of nutrients as equivalent substitutes of their gluten-containing counterparts,” Martínez-Barona concluded.
“As more and more people are following a gluten-free diet to effectively manage celiac disease, it is imperative that foods marketed as substitutes are reformulated to ensure that they truly do have similar nutritional values,” study co-author Joaquim Calvo Lerma, PhD, also of the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria La Fe, said in a press release. “This is especially important for children, as a well-balanced diet is essential to healthy growth and development.” – by Adam Leitenberger
Martínez-Barona S, et al. Abstract #N-O-009. Presented at: ESPGHAN Annual Meeting; May 10-13, 2017; Prague, Czech Republic.
Disclosures: Healio Gastroenterology was unable to confirm the researchers’ relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.