Packaged Gluten-Free Foods Are Full of Fat, Sugar and Salt, Study Finds

Many gluten free flours and processed snacks have more fat, sugar and salt than traditional products to help with taste. ELLIOTT VERDIER/AFP/Getty Images

Gluten-free diets are essential for people with celiac disease, however, they've become popular with people who don't have the ailment but believe they too can benefit. Some believe gluten-free diets are healthier and can boost energy or relieve joint pain. A new study by researchers in the United Kingdom, however, indicates that gluten-free foods pack more of the things we shouldn't be eating (like salt) and have less nutritional value than their gluten-filled counterparts.

Related: Gluten-Free Diets May Boost Diabetes Risk, Study Shows

For the study, published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire compared nutrition labels for more than 1,700 products and found that gluten-free foods had more fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar than similar, traditional offerings. The team specifically compared nutritional value and price per 100 grams.

However, this wasn't true for all gluten-free products: bread and flours had the highest levels of fat and sugar while crackers weren't always nutritionally worse in those areas, compared to their counterparts. All gluten-free items had less fiber and protein than regular foods.

What's more, gluten-free products were 159 percent more expensive on average, with the specialty products costing $1.59 per 100 grams and their regular equivalents priced at $0.61 per 100 grams. As this was conducted in the United Kingdom, the amounts were converted from British pounds.

Despite the popularity of gluten-free diets, some health professionals recommend them only for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. A study from May 2017 indicated that people without celiac disease were at risk of coronary heart disease due to the diet's lack of whole grains, which helps lower cholesterol.

So why are some gluten-free items less nutritious? Taste and texture, according to registered dietitian, Emily Rubin of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She explained to Newsweek that in order to make these foods appealing, manufacturers add fat and sugar.

That said, she stresses it's typically processed gluten-free foods, like cookies and snack foods, that tend to be more unhealthy. She notes there are plenty of foods that are naturally gluten-free and healthy, like quinoa, sweet potatoes, fresh fruits and vegetables.

While the researchers of this study conclude that gluten-free foods aren't exactly a healthier alternative (and could be a waste of money), Rubin doesn't see any reason for people to give up their diets.

"They can choose a gluten-free diet—but they need to incorporate the healthier GF options," she wrote to Newsweek.

This means less of those processed snack foods you love so much and more quinoa and vegetables—which is probably what you should be eating regardless of gluten preference.