Kids and gluten
Family Health

How to Tell if Your Child Needs a Gluten-Free Diet

With the booming popularity of gluten-free products, more consumers are becoming curious about the health benefits of foods without this protein, which is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Even people who don't have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity are getting on board with a variety of gluten-free options, including boxed snacks and special menu items at restaurants. With all the hype, you may be wondering whether a gluten-free diet is right for your child.

Is Gluten Bad for My Family?

Not necessarily, according to Lisa Cimperman, MS, RD, LD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Gluten is not essential to our diets and nor is it detrimental," Cimperman said in an interview with Dignity Health. "Even though a lot of people assign negative health effects to gluten, the reality is, for the majority of individuals it is not harmful."

Going gluten-free has become trendy for some consumers, but your decision to remove gluten from your family's meals should be based on factual evidence and their unique, individual needs. If your child has been diagnosed with celiac disease, then a gluten-free diet is a must. Otherwise, there's no guarantee that your child will benefit. In fact, the very existence of gluten sensitivity is still debated among medical experts. Some parents have reported positive changes in both their children's physical health and temperament after removing gluten from their diets. However, this could be due to removing processed foods that happen to contain gluten and replacing them with more healthful foods. It could even be a placebo effect, Cimperman says.

"A gluten-free diet can be done right and can be healthy and contain all the nutrients that adults and children need, but people really need to understand why they are following a certain diet if it's not technically intended," Cimperman says.

Could My Child Have Celiac Disease?

Some very visible signs can point to gluten intolerance or celiac disease when you've exhausted some other culprits. Many people complain of gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation. However, families should look into whether these issues stem from gluten consumption or the less-discussed presence of highly fermentable carbohydrates in certain foods. Research has suggested that highly fermentable carbohydrates, not gluten, might be to blame for some abdominal distress. Because they are often found in foods that also contain gluten, it can be difficult to tell what is actually responsible for the discomfort. Your pediatrician or a pediatric dietitiancan help you make this distinction.

The Best Choice For Your Family

Scaling back on gluten consumption is often a perfectly safe choice for families. It also creates opportunities to get creative with meals that are high in protein, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables. However, going gluten-free can be expensive, and it can limit some food and restaurant options. Every family is different. Before making any major dietary changes, speak with a doctor or dietitian about the best dietary practices for your children to make sure that they don't miss out on important nutrients. Take comfort in knowing that unless your child is displaying any symptoms that point to the need for a gluten-free diet, you can rest assured that the well-balanced diet you already have in place for your family is probably the right one.

Posted in Family Health

Julia is a freelance journalist specializing in health, tech, lifestyle, and culture reporting. Her work has appeared in People.com, USA Today College, Parents.com, and Healthline, among other publications.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.