A new survey has revealed that most Americans believe that a Gluten-free diet is healthy, which could help explain the impressive growth of the gluten-free industry now worth nearly $9 billion.
The Consumer Reports National Research Center survey involving over 1,000 participants revealed that 63 percent of Americans believe that a gluten-free diet could boost their mental and physical health, and about a third claims to purchase gluten-free products or avoid food that contains gluten.
Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Celiac Research director Alessio Fasano, however, pointed out that there's a limited amount of research to support claims of the health benefits of adopting a gluten-free diet such as improved digestion, stronger immune system and weight loss and that there is no medical reason for anyone who do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to eliminate gluten from their diet.
Gluten-free diet is originally intended for people who suffer from Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder marked by the small intestine's hypersensitivity to gluten, a protein present in grains such as rye, barley and wheat.
In the recent survey, a quarter of the participants believe that gluten-free foods contain more vitamins and minerals compared with other foods but a Consumer Reports review of 81 gluten-free products across 12 categories show it is not always the case.
"People think that going gluten-free will help them lose weight or get better digestion and a whole host of other health benefits," said Patricia Calvo of Consumer Reports. "But when we looked at those gluten-free products we found that they're not necessarily healthier and they may be less so."
Health experts said that going gluten-free could have a negative impact on a person's health because it shuns food with important nutrients such as iron and folic acid, which are found in products that use wheat flours.
Here's another bad news for those who want to lose weight: a gluten free diet can also result in unwanted weight gain. With gluten adding texture and flavor to the food, gluten-free products may compensate for these by using adding extra fat, sugar or sodium.
"When you cut out gluten completely, you can cut out foods that have valuable nutrients and you may end up adding more calories and fat into your diet," Fasano said.
There is also concern that gluten free diet could increase a person's exposure to inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen, as many of the gluten-free foods that the Consumer Reports analyze have rice-based ingredients. In a 2014 study, researchers have found that the arsenic intake of adults who have celiac disease and eat rice or rice products is worrisome.
"These levels are close to 10 times the amount of inorganic arsenic we think consumers should get in their diets on a weekly basis," said Consumer Reports Consumer Safety and Sustainability associate director Michael Crupain.