‘Gluten-Free’ Food Labels May Deceive Consumers As Healthy: Is The Fad Dangerous?

Food labels can shape our perception of how we view products. Buzzwords like “gluten-free,” “natural,” “wholegrain,” and “antioxidant” have misguided customers into thinking they are buying a healthier food with some implied health benefit. While consumers have become aware of the need to choose healthier options, a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior has found dieters who consume gluten-free foods (without a wheat sensitivity), actually miss out on vital nutrients in exchange for unsupported claims of weight loss and healthier skin.

gluten free Food Labels

The belief that consuming gluten-free foods will lead to certain health benefits is not entirely based on research. The Internet has played a pivotal role in influencing consumers’ food choices by providing a variety of claims and convictions. “If I’m a college student, and I want to lose weight, and I read on the Internet that a gluten-free diet is the way to go, I may start avoiding products that contain essential nutrients such as those found in cereal grains fortified with folic acid,” said Karla Shelnutt, a University of Florida assistant professor in family, youth, and community sciences, in the news release.

In the U.S., celiac disease patients, or only one percent of the population, must adhere to a gluten-free diet because they have a wheat sensitivity, and it’s the only treatment for their condition. Gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines of these patients, says the Mayo Clinic, a gluten-free diet helps them control their signs, and symptoms, and prevent complications. However, gluten-free diets can lack essential nutrients if a person does not eat a balance diet and/or take a multivitamin supplement.

To determine if gluten-free food labels impact consumers’ perceptions of overall likeability, flavor and texture of two types of food products, and the beliefs about the healthfulness of gluten-free diets, Shelnutt and her colleagues recruited a small cohort from the University of Florida over a one-day period. A total of 97 participants were presented with two sets of paired items — cookies and chips — equaling four total products. All of the paired items were identical gluten-free products, with one item from each pair being labeled “gluten free” and one “conventional.”

Participants then rated each food on a nine-point scale for overall liking, flavor, and texture. This was followed by questionnaire to determine the participants’ health beliefs relating to gluten-free diets. Responses were recorded using Compusense software, and analysis of variance (ANOVA) to determine the impact of labeling.

The findings revealed a third of participants said they believed gluten-free foods to be healthier than those labeled “conventional,” a figure Shelnutt thought would be much lower. In regard to its health benefits, approximately 60 percent of the participants said they believed a gluten-free diet can treat adverse medical conditions, and 35 percent believed gluten-free could improve digestive health. When it came to overall health, 31 percent of participants believed gluten-free was “healthier” and 32 percent believed doctors prescribed gluten-free eating for weight loss.

These beliefs come as no surprise, as the $10.5 billion gluten-free industry has seen a rise in profits. Gluten-free food and beverage industry grew 44 percent between 2011 and 2013, according to market research company Mintel, the NY Daily News reported. The company estimates sales will reach $15 billion by 2016. Food companies are manipulating consumers’ desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious, when they are actually not.

The reason why eating gluten-free may lead to weight loss is because the diet reduces carbohydrate intake. Dieters who focus on eating more lean protein, fruits, and vegetables can achieve some initial weight loss. However, this can be done without having to go gluten-free, as weight loss is achieved by reducing your caloric intake, not eliminating gluten from your diet.

Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and triticale — a cross between wheat and rye. While the protein gluten is not found in gluten-free products, they do contain extra sugar and fat to make them tastier, including extra salt. Nutritional food labels also show these foods contain fewer vitamins, less fiber, and more sugar. This has made some food makers to not make any health claims about this hot commodity.

Health experts have yet to find proven benefits of going gluten-free, with the exception of those whose small intestine cannot process the protein. The gluten-free craze may be unfounded, and just a fad diet for those without celiac disease.

Source: medical daily

New F.D.A. Nutrition Labels Would Make ‘Serving Sizes’ Reflect Actual Servings

The Food and Drug Administration for the first time in two decades will propose major changes to nutrition labels on food packages, putting calorie counts in large type and adjusting portion sizes to reflect how much Americans actually eat.

It would be the first significant redrawing of the nutrition information on food labels since the federal government started requiring them in the early 1990s. Those labels were based on eating habits and nutrition data from the 1970s and ’80s, before portion sizes expanded significantly, and federal health officials argued that the changes were needed to bring labels into step with the reality of the modern American diet.

“It’s an amazing transformation,” said Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the F.D.A. “Things like the size of a muffin have changed so dramatically. It is important that the information on the nutrition fact labels reflect the realities in the world today.”

The proposed changes include what experts say will be a particularly controversial item: a separate line for sugars that are manufactured and added to food, substances that many public health experts say have contributed substantially to the obesity problem in this country. The food industry has argued against similar suggestions in the past.

“The changes put added sugars clearly in the cross hairs,” said Dr. David A. Kessler, who was commissioner during the original push for labels in the 1990s. “America has the sweetest diet in the world. You can’t get to be as big as we’ve gotten without added sweeteners.” Millions of Americans pay attention to food labels, and the changes are meant to make them easier to understand — a critical step in an era when more than one-third of adults are obese, public health experts say. The epidemic has caused rates of diabetes to soar, and has increased risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The proposal will be open to public comment for 90 days, and it will take months before any change is made final. In a special concession to industry, the agency is allowing companies two years to put the changes into effect.

Source: New York Times

Red light, green labels: Food choice made easier

In March 2010, Massachusetts General Hospital’s cafeteria got an overhaul. Healthy items were labeled with a “green light,” less healthy items were labeled with a “yellow light,” and unhealthy items were labeled with a “red light.” Healthier items were also placed in prime locations throughout the cafeteria, while unhealthy items were pushed below eye level.

The “Green Light, Red Light, Eat Right” method is a favorite among experts fighting childhood obesity. But doctors at Massachusetts General wanted to know if the colors could really inspire healthier eating habits among adults long-term.

The results of their study were published Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study

A cash register system tracked all purchases from the hospital’s large cafeteria between December 2009 and February 2012. The first three months of data were used as a baseline for comparison purposes. In March 2010, all food and beverages were labeled with a visible green, yellow or red sticker. Those with a green sticker were put at eye level and in easier-to-reach places.

Signs, menu boards and other promotions were used to explain the changes around the hospital.

The cafeteria had an average of 6,511 transactions daily. Approximately 2,200 of those were from hospital employees who used the cafeteria regularly. Twelve months into the study, researchers analyzed the number of purchases from each color group, and compared them to the baseline totals. They did the same at the end of the 24-month period.

The results

The number of red items purchased during the study period decreased from 24% at the baseline to 21% at both the 12 and 24-month follow-ups. The biggest decrease was seen in red-labeled beverages (such as regular soda) – from 27% at baseline to 18% at 24 months.

Sales of green items increased from 41% to 46%.

In other words, cafeteria-goers bought more water and purchased healthier food items during the study period than they did before the traffic light system went into place.

Employees showed the biggest improvement; their purchases of red items decreased by about 20%.


“These results suggest that simple food environment interventions can play a major role in public health policies to reduce obesity,” the study authors write.

Lead study author Dr. Anne Thorndike wasn’t sure that the changes seen early in the study would last over the two-year period. The consistent results at 24 months suggest people won’t grow tired of or immune to helpful food labels, she says.

Thorndike does not believe the color coding system can replace more detailed nutrition information, but says the labels “convey some basic nutrition information in a format that can be quickly interpreted and understood by individuals from diverse backgrounds.”

It’s unclear if the traffic light system produced the change in consumers’ behavior or if it was the rearrangement of items in the cafeteria.

Use it at home

“Families could utilize this concept by categorizing foods in the household as ‘green’ or red,'” Thorndike says. “For example, you could have a ‘green’ snack drawer or shelf on the refrigerator that the kids could freely choose from, and you could designate a ‘red’ drawer in which the kids would need to ask permission before taking a snack.”

Parents can also rearrange their cupboards to put healthier snacks front and center. Sorry, cookies – it’s the dark corner up top for you.

Source: the chart