In recent years, gluten-free products have become nearly ubiquitous in American grocery stores: The gluten-free label dots an increasing number of American snack foods, and the associated hashtag—#glutenfree—has become wildly popular on social media. For many, the abundance of these foods on the market has led to a correlated assumption that products devoid of gluten are healthier than those that contain it; so often, parents are sending their kids to school with gluten-free snacks under the assumption that by doing so they're making healthier choices for their children.
But according to a new study published by the Journal of Pediatrics, there's no reason to feed your kids expressly gluten-free products unless they actually have Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease that makes it more difficult for the body to digest gluten. And in many cases, the study suggests, processed gluten-free foods can actually be worse for your kids than other processed foods.
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“Out of concern for their children’s health, parents sometimes place their children on a gluten-free diet in the belief that it relieves symptoms, can prevent CD [celiac disease], or is a healthy alternative without prior testing for CD or consultation with a dietitian," said Dr. Norelle R. Reilly, from New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, in a statement released with the study.
This, the study says, is simply not true. There are "no proven health benefits" for people who do not have Celiac Disease to eat a gluten-free diet: "It could increase fat and calorie intake, contribute to nutritional deficiencies, and obscure an actual diagnosis of CD." That's because gluten-free products often contain more fat and sugar, and fewer fortified nutrients, than their glutinous counterparts. "Obesity, overweight, and new-onset insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have been identified after initiation of a [gluten free diet]," per the study.
And there's no evidence that gluten is toxic, contrary to what some people think. So why do so many non-celiac Americans opt for gluten-free foods? Per a 2015 study cited in the Journal of Pediatrics report, for 35 percent of respondents the answer was.... "no reason."
Thanks to the findings of this study, you now have a reason to live it up with the glutinous products. Look, not everyone is lucky enough to have a digestive system that processes gluten properly. If yours does, we would heartily encourage you to embrace that luxury. We know we do. On that note, here are some of our favorite healthy snack recipes, and here, our best-ever tips for baking your own bread.