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Increasingly sought after gluten and lactose-free products but nutritionists warn of risks

The fashion for gluten-free and lactose-free foods has triggered their consumption in recent years, but nutritionists warn that these substances should only be withdrawn from food when there is a clinical reason to do so.

DATE: September 2019
AUTHOR: Rui Madeira | Health

According to Visão Magazine, in the last three years, the sale of these products has increased, with supermarket chains that decided to create a range of private label products.

In Pingo Doce supermarkets, sales of organic products grew 180%, gluten-free 20% and lactose-free 54%, according to company data made available to Agência Lusa.

"Increasing demand for these types of products" and the work done to "make them available at very competitive prices contribute to this growth," says the supermarket chain.

Continent also grew by over 90% in the gluten and lactose and organic products categories.

"There is currently a focus on these two categories because the market demands it: between consumers who need alternative products (for health reasons such as celiac disease) and consumers who, without the same degree of need, consider them products contribute to a healthier lifestyle, the increase in demand has been very significant in recent years, "says the company to Lusa.

If this growth can be seen as a sign that the population is more concerned with healthy eating, the Order of Nutritionists, Alexandra Bento, warns that there is "a lot of confusion and a very false concept" surrounding this demand. .

For the president, the search for "health for a better life" does not imply removing any kind of food or nutrient from food.

"On the contrary, eliminating a particular nutrient or food without a pathology that justifies it, by a belief or some information passage that may not be credible," or by fashion, "can even increase the risk of having a deficiency of food. some nutrient ", warns in statements to Lusa.

The decision to eliminate gluten or lactose must be made "consciously and guided by a nutritionist", ie there must be "a clinical reason" to do so.

"People with gluten intolerance make up about 5% of the population. Everyone else should not be excluding it because there is no scientific evidence to support the health benefits of a gluten-free diet."

This is corroborated by the director of the Faculty of Nutrition and Food of the University of Porto, Pedro Graça, who argues that people who fear celiac disease or are lactose intolerant should contact their GP.

Celiac disease, an autoimmune pathology caused by gluten reaction, which is very common in wheat, can develop at any age and has gastrointestinal penalizing effects, and a timely diagnosis is essential because "the only available treatment is a gluten-free diet for all ages. life, "said the nutritionist.

According to Pedro Graça, people who are not intolerant to gluten and lactose, but who, by fashion, begin to consume products without these nutrients risk becoming intolerant.

"Lactose digestion needs an enzyme that is in the gut (lactase). If people totally stop consuming dairy products for fear of being lactose intolerant but not, what can happen" is that this enzyme stops working. stimulated and may tend to disappear.

For this reason, lactose and gluten should only be eliminated after the doctor confirms, through specific tests, that there is intolerance, argues Pedro Graça.

The expert stresses that this confirmation is "very important" because lactose-free and gluten-free products are more expensive and consumers "may be paying more and changing their diet for no apparent reason".

In addition, many of these foods have more calories: "Some people who understand that to diet should take gluten foods is counter-intuitive because they may even have an excessive energy value," added the nutritionist.

Both nutritionists stress, however, the importance of the industry innovating and offering greater variety to those with these problems.

Therefore, it is best to always consult your doctor before making any decision regarding the deprivation of products or ingredients as you may not be taking the best action.