Gluten free packaged foods are often marketed as healthy eating. These substitute products tend to be shelved in the health food section of supermarkets so give the impression that they are healthy to the consumer. This could have something to do with the fact that these speciality foods are considered a treatment for people with coeliac disease and gluten related disorders. However, clever marketing and testimonials from high profile persons and celebrity doctors and bloggers has turned the gluten free diet into the eating plan of the moment. Manufacturers know that the gluten free industry is a huge buisness that is exploding and a huge profit can be made by targeting this population. People buy into the idea that gluten is unhealthy for everybody.
However, the truth is that gluten free products generally tend to be unhealthy. There are healthier options to choose from, but if somebody chooses to convert to a gluten free diet, nothing can beat a diet rich in natural gluten free foods. Gluten free products are often lacking in fibre, iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate if one is not careful. These products are also packed with sugars and preservatives and are often higher in calories. I say if one is not careful because a diet can be healthy or crappy whether gluten free or not. It is all about making the right choices.
So when I see a company making false health claims about their products, (not once, but several times) to boost sales, I cannot help but write a blog post about it to clarify a few facts.
Today I came across an advert by a local bakery. In it they claim that gluten free foods contain more fibre. You can view the advert by clicking here.
Just 5 days earlier they made a different claim. They stated that gluten free foods give you energy and that athletes are going gluten free to improve their performance. So we should try their range of gluten free products to see if we get an energy boost. Click here to view this.
Did those 2 statements make your blood boil? If not, please continue reading because I will explain in detail why these are false health claims.
This bakery produces fresh bread. You would be forgiven if you deduced from those 2 adverts that their bread was rich in gluten free wholegrains, fortified with iron and other minerals, and contained minimal preservatives, if any at all. But if you thought that you are wrong. They only gluten free products they currently produce are white rolls and buns, pizza bases and muffins. I will write about the bread for the sake of keeping this post as short as possible.
These are the ingredients of their bread rolls:
water, potato starch, corn starch, sugar, non-hydrogenated palm oil, yeast, rice starch, carob flour, psyllium husk, potato protein, salt, acidity regulator (E330), preservatives (E282), stabuilizers (E464, E466), emulsifiers (E471, E472e), flavouring.
And these are the ingredients of their buns:
water, potato starch, corn starch, sugar, non-hydrogenated palm oil, yeast, rice starch, carob flour, psyllium husk, potato protein, salt, preservatives (E282), acidity regulator (E330), stabilizers (E464, E466), emulsifiers (E471, E472e), flavouring.
See the problem yet?
No worries. I will go into more detail. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, ‘High fibre’ should contain 6g fibre per 100g. A slice of wholemeal wheat bread contains around 1.9 grams of fibre per slice (28g). These gluten free rolls contain 3.4 grams of fibre per 100g. There are no whole grains in the ingredients list and if you notice it contains alot of starches. In Malta people with coeliac disease get Schar pan carre on prescription monthly. We always complain that it is very unhealthy and not suitable for people with diabetes and coeliac disease. Yet, that contains 6.3 grams of fibre per 100g.
Fibre is an important part of a healthy diet. According to the NHS, it can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, and can also improve digestive health. Gluten is found in grains that are high in fibre like wheat but there are alternative gluten free grains that one can consume that are just as nutritious. However, it is incorrect to say that a gluten free diet is high in fibre. Again, it is all about choices and this bread is not the right choice for a fibre rich food.
In my post titled 3 myths and the truth about coeliac disease and diabetes, I said that people with both conditions should include foods with a lower glycaemic index in their diet. Foods with a low or medium GI raises blood glucose less than foods with a high GI. Fat and fiber tend to lower the GI of a food. So implying that a particular food is high in fibre when it isn’t can be dangerous for this group of people because the combination of low fibre in gluten free products plus the starches used as fillers will contribute to raising blood glucose fast.
As for the energy claim… yes, a gluten free diet can be a great source of energy, and I have heard of top athletes that go gluten free to improve their performance. I do not know the science behind that, and I am not sure it has been proven, but when you are the top of the top, any good change in diet will make a difference when success is based on a fraction of an advantage over your opponent. But can you really imagine an athlete eating a gluten free diet full of gluten free products that are often loaded with starches, high in sugars and fats and low in essential nutrients? A gluten free diet can be a good energy source, just like a normal diet can. But when it is, it is because lots of healthy and nutritious natural foods are included in the diet, coupled with exercise and adequate rest.
So please. All you companies out there. Stop making false health claims to boost your sales.
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