Notwithstanding a growth in popularity and consumption of gluten-free (GF) food products, there is a lack of substantiated analysis of the nutritional quality compared with their gluten-containing counterparts. To put GF foods into proper perspective both for those who need it (patients with celiac disease) and for those who do not, we provide contemporary data about cost and nutritional quality of GF food products. The objective of this study is to develop a food composition database for seven discretionary food categories of packaged GF products. Nutrient composition, nutritional information and cost of foods from 63 GF and 126 gluten-containing counterparts were systematically obtained from 12 different Austrian supermarkets. The nutrition composition (macro and micronutrients) was analyzed by using two nutrient composition databases in a stepwise approximation process. A total of 63 packaged GF foods were included in the analysis representing a broad spectrum of different GF categories (flour/bake mix, bread and bakery products, pasta and cereal-based food, cereals, cookies and cakes, snacks and convenience food). Our results show that the protein content of GF products is >2 fold lower across 57% of all food categories. In 65% of all GF foods, low sodium content was observed (defined as <120 mg/100 g). Across all GF products, 19% can be classified as source high in fiber (defined as >6g/100 g). On average, GF foods were substantially higher in cost, ranging from +205% (cereals) to +267% (bread and bakery products) compared to similar gluten-containing products. In conclusion, our results indicate that for GF foods no predominant health benefits are indicated; in fact, some critical nutrients must be considered when being on a GF diet. For individuals with celiac disease, the GF database provides a helpful tool to identify the food composition of their medical diet. For healthy consumers, replacing gluten-containing products with GF foods is aligned with substantial cost differences but GF foods do not provide additional health benefits from a nutritional perspective.
Keywords: Celiac disease; Cost of gluten-free products; Food composition database; Gluten-free diet; Gluten-free products.