Gluten-free diet carries increased obesity risk, warn experts

Food adapted for those with coeliac disease often has more fat and less protein, and no benefits to non-sufferers, finds research

Substituting everyday staples with gluten-free foods could increase the risk of obesity, experts have warned, after finding that such products often contain higher levels of fats than the food they aim to replace.

A gluten-free diet is essential to those with coeliac disease an auto-immune condition that is thought to affect 1% of Europeans while the regime is also proving increasingly popular among those without the disease. But while a host of gluten-free products are on the market, researchers have said they have a very different nutritional make-up to conventional staples.

There is very little [consumers] can do about it, said Joaquim Calvo Lerma of the Instituto de Investigacin Sanitaria La Fe in Spain and co-author of the research. Unfortunately consumers can [only] eat what is available on the market.

Calvo Lermas warning comes after he and his and colleagues compared 655 conventional food products to 654 gluten-free alternatives across 14 food groups including breads, pasta, breakfast cereals, biscuits and even ready meals, covering a range of brands.

The results presented at the annual meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition reveal that, overall, gluten-free products were more energy-dense than their conventional counterparts.

The team found that, on average, gluten-free bread loaves had more than twice the fat of conventional loaves, while gluten-free breads in general had two to three times less protein than conventional products. Gluten-free biscuits were also found to be lower in protein but higher in fat, while gluten-free pasta had lower levels of sugar and just half of the protein of standard pasta.

Calvo Lerma warned that gluten-free foods could be contributing to an increased risk of obesity, particularly among children who are more likely to eat products like biscuits and breakfast cereals. He urged consumers to compare gluten-free products across brands to find those with the lowest fat content.

Calvo Lerma also called on manufacturers to innovate. It is the responsibility of the food industry to produce these type of gluten-free products from other materials that are much healthier or have a [more] enhanced nutritional profile than the current raw materials being used, like cornflour or potato starch, he said, pointing out that healthier products could be made, for example, using grains such as buckwheat or amaranth.

He added that manufacturers should also add more complete and clearer labels to products to highlight their nutritional content, including levels of vitamins and minerals.

Benjamin Lebwohl, from the coeliac disease centre at Columbia University, who was not involved in the research, said that the study backs up previous evidence that gluten-free foods are nutritionally suboptimal. But while a gluten-free diet is essential for coeliacs, it is not intrinsically healthy or unhealthy, he added. It depends on the choices you make as part of the gluten-free diet, he said.

Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK, said the latest findings tie in with the charitys own research, adding that further development of lower-fat, gluten-free products would be welcomed.

David Sanders, professor of gastroenterology at the University of Sheffield, noted that other studies have found gluten-free and conventional foods to have similar nutritional value. The jury is out, he said.

But Sanders cautioned that there is no evidence a gluten-free diet has benefits for those without gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease. Once you go into the territory of dietary restrictions without medical symptoms then you are running the gauntlet of missing out on various vitamins or minerals without realising it, he said.

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Quinoa is over: let it go. The dietary future belongs to ghee | Emma Brockes

Whole30, the latest must-do health fad in the US, comes with surprising dos and donts, and a belligerent attitude

It is a mark of the diet industrys brazen resilience that, in response to growing public awareness of how, for decades, it colluded with the sugar lobby to dump the blame for obesity on fat, it is scrambling to tell a new story. If you are doing dry January or Veganuary you are hopelessly behind; this year, its all about no-sugar January, from the very people who brought you fat will kill you no, actually, its bread! Well, someone has to monetise these U-turns.

Bread is still on the banned list. But thanks to all those annoyingly fact-based books and articles last year it is no longer public enemy number one. At the top of the US bestseller list is the Whole30, a diet book devoted to eliminating, for one month, dairy andgrains from your diet but throwing its weight against sugar as well. Instead, it is embracing of course good fats.

Whats fascinating is the crack the Whole30 has at other food fads. On the diets sorry, the programmes banned list are gluten-free pseudo-grains like quinoa. Pseudo-grains! The cheek of it! Also tofu and tempeh. Take that, hipsters! And theres a side-swipe at the Paleos for cheating with things such as fake Pop-Tarts.

You cant have alcohol on the Whole30, and the sugar ban encompasses honey, maple syrup and agave. You can have ghee in place of butter and you can also have the following philosophy, which the authors call tough love but I can think of other names for: Dont you dare tell us this is hard, they admonish. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. This reminds me of those actors who say actings not coal mining, or risking ones life in a war, then bat their eyelashes at how hard it is to be popular.

Endless studies detail how hard it is to break dietary habits, particularly when people are too busy or poor or harried to think five meals ahead and plan around a ban on every food item in the house. And while the science behind sugar addiction might be right, the same old diet-book tactic of going cold turkey and expecting a miracle seems doomed to end in more failure. By which time something else will have surfaced to offer us salvation.

Sorry to bother you

Everyone in my house was sick at New Year, testing what remains of my Englishness: that is, forcing me to do something considered standard in the US that to me feels rude, which is to bug the doctor on a public holiday.

This was not an emergency; it was a two-year-old with a heavy cold, and a query, raised by the pharmacist, about how to calibrate the medicine. I felt terrible. Our family doctor is very nice and is always on call and it took me several goes of picking up my phone and putting it down again before I could bear to leave him a message.

Then again, there is an obsequious part of my nature that likes to bother him precisely for the opportunity it furnishes to go on about how much I hate to bother him, differentiating me from all the terrible Americans on his list with different ideas about healthcare. I cant imagine why people find the English insufferable.

The Crown has a great sedative effect. Photograph: Alex Bailey/Netflix

Sleepy and glorious

At about 3am I gave up trying to sleep with a barking toddler by my side and decamped with her to the sofa to watch TV. The series might have cost 100m, but two episodes of The Crown the one where they spend 40 minutes discussing whether Charles should be a Mountbatten or a Windsor, and the one in which we are invited to identify with Margaret had a greater sedative effect on her than anything from the pharmacist, making it, to me, this viewer, priceless. Hooray for Queen and country.

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