Talking to FoodNavigator at Food Matters Live in London, food scientist, Iva Djokic, said: “The research around gluten-free products is very inconclusive. For a study to be beneficial it has to be a long-term study and as it’s a very new trend you can’t have a long-term study of 15 or 20 years.”
“I don’t think there is any conclusive evidence out there suggesting that for consumers who do not suffer from gluten intolerance a gluten-free diet is beneficial,” she added.
David Jago, director of innovation and insight at Mintel, agreed that opting for gluten-free products is a lifestyle choice, but not necessarily a healthier choice.
According to Hamish Renton, president of the International Food Marketing Alliance, two-thirds of Americans (the US is the largest gluten-free market) who choose to eat gluten-free products do so because they believe they are healthier.
Jago said: “There is a significant number of consumers who believe, rightly or wrongly, that they feel better if they avoid gluten or if they reduce gluten intake. It’s really that soft-claim area that is keeping the market up and that’s where the growth is coming from.”
Djokic said there was potentially a placebo effect for some consumers opting for gluten-free.
…And the risks
However, she also warned that it could have a detrimental effect if consumers weren't educated enough on what gluten-free food really is about.
“There is a risk of promoting gluten-free food as a better life choice. Some products will just have ‘gluten-free’ label on them and I’ve seen people go ‘Wow, it’s alright, it’s gluten-free and they will have three instead of one, but actually the sugar level is just as high, the fat level might just be as high and the additive level might just be as high,” said Djokic.