A recent study of almost 400 packaged foods marketed to kids found that most were unhealthy, whether they claimed to be gluten free or not. In fact, the gluten-free foods had less protein than the regular foods, and similarly excessive levels of sugar, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics.
A researcher in Canada, Dr. Charlene Elliott, collected the foods from two major supermarket chains in Canada. She avoided obvious junk food, such as candy, potato chips, and soda (although she did include ice cream). The foods studied included instant oatmeal, granola bars, macaroni and cheese boxes, cereal, peanut butter and fruit snacks.
Dr. Elliot found that 88 percent of the foods labeled gluten-free were unhealthy according to standard nutrition guidelines. That compared to 97 percent of the non gluten-free foods.
The study didn't include every possible gluten-free packaged food, so it could be that a different sampling of products would yield different results. Also, the research took place in Canada, and may not accurately reflect the gluten-free food sold in the U.S.
However, it's not news that packaged and processed food tends to be less healthy than eating nutrient-dense whole foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables. Packaged gluten-free food is still processed food, gluten or no gluten.
It's true that some children (and adults) need to avoid gluten because they have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, which causes an immune reaction. But many people buy gluten-free foods simply because they think it's healthier, an assumption not supported by science.
So how can you avoid being duped by "gluten free" labels? Dr. Elliott recommends reading nutrition labels and serving whole, unprocessed foods, regardless of whether someone in your family has celiac disease or you're just trying to eat healthy.
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