The gluten-free (GF) product industry has exploded into a $4 billion dollar behemoth. While a godsend for consumers coping with celiac disease and gluten intolerance issues, a recent study has determined that GF foods targeted at children are nutritionally no better than traditional products and often are worse.
The study, conducted by the University of Calgary and published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at all child-targeted food products purchased from two major supermarket chains in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Using the Pan American Health Organization Nutrient Profile Model, the nutritional quality of products with a GF claim was compared with those without such a claim. A secondary analysis further compared the nutrient profile of child-targeted GF products to their traditional product equivalents.
Overall, child-targeted GF products had lower levels of sodium, total fat, and saturated fat but also had less protein and a similar percentage of calories from sugar compared with child-targeted products without a GF claim. According to the Pan American Health Organization criteria, both GF products and traditional products designed for children can be classified as having poor nutritional quality. When analyzed in light of their product equivalents without a GF claim, both had similarly high levels of sugar.
The study concluded:
GF supermarket foods that are targeted at children are not nutritionally superior to regular child-targeted foods and may be of greater potential concern because of their sugar content. The health halo often attributed to the GF label is not warranted, and parents who substitute GF products for their product equivalents (assuming GF products to be healthier) are mistaken. Parents of children with gluten intolerance and/or sensitivity, along with parents who purchase GF products for other health reasons, need to carefully assess product labels when making purchases.