The Times

Gerry Gajadharsingh writes: For several years I have noticed increasing numbers of patients saying they are adopting gluten free diets, for “health reasons”. I must admit I am NOT a fan of this particular health craze. It is very challenging being gluten free, just ask a person who actually has coeliac disease (an autoimmune disease where a patient has developed a true gluten intolerance). A whole industry has developed to “feed” this gluten free craze, as the research below points out, as always there are unintended consequences.

Whilst it is well observed that too many wheat-based products seem in your diet can cause some digestive symptoms, abdominal bloating probably being the most common, that doesn’t mean it’s a gluten problem and it certainly doesn’t mean you need to exclude all gluten from your diet. Many people who have issues with wheat, tolerate oats and rye really well (they also have gluten in them). Eating a balanced and varied diet (i.e. not eating the same food every day), is really helpful and can help the immune system avoid becoming overloaded by the same foods on a daily basis, I suspect this is much healthier and cheaper than going gluten free.”

Gluten-free foods contain more fat, salt and sugar than their gluten-containing equivalents, and are generally more than twice as expensive, a study has found.

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire said it was clear that gluten-free (GF) products offered no nutritional advantage over regular foods and were not healthier. They also found that GF foods were up to two and a half times more expensive than their regular counterparts.

After comparing more than 1,700 products from Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Ocado, they found that, with the exception of crackers, GF foods contained more fat, salt and sugar and had lower fibre and protein content than their equivalents.

A GF diet is the only option for those who suffer from coeliac disease, which is caused by an adverse reaction to gluten, but many more people choose GF foods because they are perceived to contribute towards a healthy diet.

The study, published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, warned that the fact that GF foods were more expensive could lead those with coeliac disease to stop buying them, compromising their health. Coeliac disease affects about one in every 100 people in the UK.

The government is assessing whether to restrict the availability of gluten-free foods on prescription.

The research team compiled an exhaustive list of commercial GF foods from the five retailers, randomly selecting gluten-containing equivalents from the same stores. Rosalind Fallaize, research fellow in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “We found that gluten-free foods were significantly more expensive than regular items, which is very concerning given the movement towards stopping gluten-free prescriptions for people with coeliac disease.

“It’s also clear from our research that gluten-free foods don’t offer any nutritional advantages over regular foods so are not a healthier alternative for people who do not require a gluten-free diet.”