“Gluten-Free” is the new catchword for “healthy diet,” or so it would seem if you read grocery store labels. Do gluten-free foods really make your family healthier? It’s not always a simple answer.
Just what is gluten? It’s a protein found in wheat and some other grains. Why do some people avoid gluten? There are several reasons.
Less than 1% of the population cannot eat gluten because they have celiac disease. According to the National Institutes of Health page on the subject, “celiac disease is an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.” It can be diagnosed as early as infancy or at any later time, and you can find a list of symptoms here from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The only way to get relief from those symptoms is to completely eliminate gluten from the diet, a task that isn’t easy because so many products contain wheat flour.
Others think that a gluten-free diet makes them feel better, though that could simply be because they are eating fewer carbohydrates and calorie-laden fast foods.
Still others believe that gluten contributes to behavioral problems or may even have a link to autism. Those ideas remain unproven, but there is a great article here.
Gluten-free advocates often tout a huge list of health benefits that are completely without scientific basis.
Celiac disease cannot be diagnosed without specific tests. If it’s something you suspect your child may have, talk to your pediatrician. And if you have to put your child on a gluten-free diet, you need to speak to a dietician about what nutrients you may be missing in the process. Don’t forget that our office has a dietician on staff for just this type of consultation.
Bottom line: there’s nothing wrong with eating gluten-free foods, but don’t go totally gluten-free without consulting your pediatrician.
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