Thursday, January 17, 2013

Is Gluten-Free Really Healthier?

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Gluten-free diets are trending right now. With 1.8 million Americans living with celiac disease, and an estimated 1.6 million who voluntarily follow a gluten-free diet, just over 1% of Americans are living a "gluten-free" lifestyle. Because of this new trend, there has been a noteworthy rise in the gluten-free product market. But, if you don't have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, is it actually healthier to follow a gluten-free diet? Besides the supposed health benefit, gluten-free products can come with an expensive price tag, which begs the question is the cost of these products worth it?

Udi's Gluten-Free Whole
Grain Bread,  12oz package

Pepperidge Farm's Double Fiber
Whole Grain Bread, 24oz package

With more fiber and protein, and less salt and sugar, Pepperidge Farm's Whole Grain Bread beats Udi's. The calories per serving here can be deceiving--for Udi's, a serving is two small pieces of bread (53g), while for Pepperidge Farm, it's one large piece (43g). Still, gram per gram, Udi's has more calories than Pepperidge Farm. Udi's bread may be better if you are trying to limit your intake of bad fat, while Pepperidge Farm's bread may be better if you are limiting your salt intake. Price wise, Pepperidge Farm comes out on top, too: Udi's is 6 times more expensive! Udi's is $6.99 per pound, while Pepperidge Farm is $1.19 per pound.

Ancient Harvest Gluten-Free
Quinoa Spaghetti, 8oz package
Winner: Pepperidge Farm's Whole Grain Double Fiber Bread

Barilla Whole Grain
Linguine, 13.25oz package

Comparable in calories, sugar, salt, and bad fat, Barilla comes in a bit higher than Ancient Harvest in both fiber and protein content. Because of similar serving sizes, the gluten-free pasta and the whole grain linguine are comparable. On price, the gluten-free pasta is 4 times more expensive! For Ancient Harvest pasta, you'll pay $6.50 per pound, while for Barilla pasta, you'll pay $1.50 per pound.
Winner: Barilla Whole Grain Linguine


Nabisco Oreo, 15.25oz package
Glutino Gluten-Free Chocolate
Vanilla Creme, 10.6oz package

Though cookies may not be the healthiest snack or dessert out there, everyone needs to satisfy their cookie craving sometimes. There is no denying that Americans love Oreos: annually, sales reach nearly 2 billion packages! At first glance, it seems that Glutino's gluten-free version is healthier--or has fewer bad ingredients--than an Oreo. But, when serving size is considered, Glutino's cookies don't maintain their advantage. A Glutino serving is 2 cookies (29 g), while Nabisco's is 3 cookies (34g). Cookie per cookie, Nabisco is better, but gram per gram, Glutino wins. Price wise, the gluten-free cookies are twice as expensive: Glutino cookies cost $6.74 per pound, while Nabisco Oreos cost $3.12 per pound. 
Winner: Dependent on consumer priorities

The Verdict Because gluten plays a big role in texture and taste of food, it's difficult to find substitutes that taste good and have good texture. Often times, this means more added ingredients (like bad fat and salt) at a higher price. Be careful which gluten-free products you purchase; don't assume they are healthier because they are labeled "gluten-free." If you still want--or need--to follow a gluten-free diet, find natural substitutes, like brown rice instead of pasta. If you are concerned about additives or price. don't just follow the crowds on some craze; look at the facts using Bon'App

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