Many gluten-free formulations lack essential nutrients
July 1, 2009
Gluten-free is big business. A recent report indicates that the gluten-free market has grown at an average annual rate of 28 percent since 2004, when it was valued at $580 million, to reach $1.5 billion last year. Sales of gluten-free products are estimated to reach $2.6bn by 2012.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder with symptoms triggered by gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. Until fairly recently, celiac disease was considered rare among Americans. In 2003, the results of a large, multi-center study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found celiac disease in one in 133 Americans. Among those with parents, siblings, or children with celiac disease, up to one in 22 people in the study had it. The only treatment currently available is to avoid gluten-containing foods. As a result the market for gluten-free products has rocketed.
Buyer beware. According to the Harvard Health Letter as more food manufacturers look to profit from the gluten-free trend they will do whatever it takes to make the normally unappealing gluten-free formulations taste better. In many instances this means adding xanthan and guar gums to replace gluten’s elasticity. Many of these bulked up foods end up lacking essential nutrients including fiber and B vitamins.
The concern was raised by Melinda Dennis, nutrition coordinator at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Celiac Center, who said that celiac patients should look to “unconventional but nutritionally well-rounded substitutes” for gluten-containing grains, like amaranth, buckwheat, teff, millet, quinoa and sorghum. She calls these the “super six” because of their high nutritional value.
Dennis added that another option for celiacs is to choose “celiac-friendly” cuisines, like Indian, Thai, Mexican and Ethiopian (which uses teff).