Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire said that gluten-free (GF) products offer no nutritional advantage over regular foods and were not a healthier alternative, which may surprise many consumers.
Gluten-free foods were 159% more expensive than their regular counterparts, they found.
After comparing more than 1,700 food products from Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, and Ocado, they found that, with the exception of crackers, gluten-free foods contained more fat, salt, and sugar and also had lower fibre and protein content than their equivalents.
A GF diet is the only treatment option for those who suffer from coeliac disease, but many more people avoid gluten foods, as they are perceived to contribute towards a healthy lifestyle.
There has been a huge increase in sales of GF foods in recent years.
However, despite this increased interest, there have been limited studies on the nutritional composition of gluten-free foods, compared with their gluten-containing equivalents, the study authors said.
Researchers found that the median, total fat contents for GF brown and white bread were more than double those of regular products, while the median cost of GF brown and white bread, and white and wholegrain flour, was over four times the price of their equivalents.
The study, which is published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, also found that GF products had significantly lower protein content than their regular equivalents, across nine out of 10 food categories.
That gluten-free foods were more expensive could stop with coeliac disease buying them, compromising their health.
The research team conducted the study by compiling an exhaustive list of commercial GF foods from the five retailers, randomly selecting gluten-containing equivalents from the same stores.
More than 1,700 food items from 10 food categories were collected and analysed.