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Alternative grains may boost coeliac nutrition

By Stephen Daniells , 04-Aug-2009
Last updated on 04-Aug-2009 at 12:26 GMT

Replacing standard gluten-free flours with those made from ‘alternative’ grains like oats and quinoa may improve the nutritional profiles, says new research from NY.

Substitution with the alternative flour sources was found to improve intakes of protein, iron, calcium and fibre, according to researchers from the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in New York.

“By adding three servings of gluten-free alternative grains, the nutrients (fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate and iron) are improved,” wrote the researchers, led by Anne Lee, in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

“By adding the alternative grains, the amount of protein, fat and calories from these foods would also be added to the diet,” they added.

The findings could lead to enhanced products for the blossoming gluten-free food market, worth almost $1.6bn last year, according to Packaged Facts, and experiencing a compound annual growth rate of 28 per cent over four years.

Sufferers of coeliac disease have to avoid all gluten in their diet, but diagnosis is not the only factor. Other sectors of the population, such as those who have self-diagnosed wheat or gluten intolerance or who believe gluten-free to be a healthier way of eating, are strong drivers.

But against this backdrop of popularity, there have been concerns that some gluten-free products on the market made with rice, corn and potato flour and xanthan or guar gum to improve texture have sub-optimal levels of essential nutrients.

It should be noted that, although oats do not actually contain gluten there is some concern over their presence in foods since they are commonly contaminated during processing with gluten from wheat, rye or barley, according to Coeliac UK.

Study details

Lee and her co-workers performed a retrospective review of the diet history of 50 randomly selected people with coeliac disease in order to establish a ‘standard’ gluten-free dietary pattern. Analysis of this pattern revealed that almost 40 per cent of meals and snacks contained no grains, while of the 60 per cent containing grains, rice was the grain most often used.

The dieticians then devised an ‘alternative’ gluten-free dietary pattern by incorporating grains that were naturally gluten-free, or gluten-free products made from ‘alternative’ flours, including as oats, quinoa, and high fibre gluten-free bread

“The inclusion of alternative grains or grain products provided a higher nutrient profile compared to the standard gluten-free dietary pattern,” explained the researchers.

“The grains used in the present study are widely available and often were less expensive,” they wrote. “Therefore, altering the grain in the diet could potentially increase dietary compliance by reducing the economic burden of the diet.

“Because the present study focused only on the nutritional analyses of the two diets, the impact of the alternative pattern on dietary compliance, patient acceptability and long-term nutritional status warrant further study,” they said.

ConAgra looks into the past

At the recent IFT Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Anaheim, ConAgra Mills announced its development of a proprietary blend of ancient gluten-free grains and tapioca starch.

The new flour reportedly has good nutritional properties, as well as good product characteristics. ConAgra Mills tapped its portfolio of naturally gluten-free ancient grains, like amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, millet and teff.

Source: Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
August 2009, Volume 22, Issue 4, Pages 359-363, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-277X.2009.00970.x
"The effect of substituting alternative grains in the diet on the nutritional profile of the gluten-free diet”
Authors: A.R. Lee, D.L. Ng, E. Dave, E.J. Ciaccio, P.H.R. Green

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