Should I put my kids on a gluten-free diet (GFD)? This is a question often asked by worried parents. Their concern is well placed–this is a big decision to make as a parent. Not only will it affect the health of your kids, but there are also social and financial implications.
The truth is that unless your children have underlying health issues, there is no need to put them on a gluten-free diet. Gluten is not harmful to most people, and gluten foods are a good source of carbs and fiber.
While certain aspects of a GFD are healthy, there is growing evidence that it is healthier for children to keep the protein in their diet if they don’t have underlying conditions.
Let’s take a closer look at gluten and the implications it has for all aspects of your kids’ health.
Should I Put My Kids On A Gluten-Free Diet?
Are you concerned your kids need to go GF? Let me help you answer that question. Do they have reactions to gluten-heavy meals such as:
- Stomach ache
- Sneezing, coughing, or a runny nose
- Diahrrea and/or constipation
- Nausea and sickness
- Tiredness and lethargy
- Skin conditions such as hives or acne
Gluten Isn’t Always The Bad Guy
While the above symptoms are all unpleasant, gluten isn’t always to blame. Acne, tiredness, and headaches are common in children, particularly teenagers.
Beyond that, gluten is not the only substance that can cause allergic reactions. Fructose and lactose are just two of many substances that can affect your kids.
If you think your kids might need a GFD then I understand the anxiety this can cause. But there’s a simple solution…
Celiac disease (CD) and wheat allergies are very serious conditions. Fortunately, they can be diagnosed with a simple blood test.
If your kids are sick then of course your reaction as a parent might be to take away whatever you think is causing the sickness. But in the case of CD, a blood test won’t give accurate results unless there is gluten present in your child’s system.
It might go against your every instinct as a parent, but if you think your child has CD, don’t make dietary changes until they’re diagnosed.
CD causes damage to the lining of the gut and so, unfortunately, it can take up to six months to see any improvement. Patience is needed from you and your child, but the benefits will be worth it when they come.
Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance
Non-Celiac gluten intolerance (NCGI) is a condition where someone doesn’t have CD, yet suffers some of the symptoms of CD. Unfortunately, NCGI is not as easy to diagnose as CD or wheat allergies. Fortunately, it isn’t as serious.
If you think your child might have NCGI, you can phase out gluten as you stabilize your child’s diet and find healthy alternatives.
Check out what a dietitian has to say about gluten intolerance.
Keep A Diary
Can you remember what you had for dinner three weeks ago? Can you remember exactly how you felt after? No? Me neither! It’s difficult enough to monitor your own wellbeing, let alone to track the health of someone else.
If you’re altering your child’s diet to give them a happier, healthier life then you are both going on a journey. Like any journey, you will try to take the easiest route and there will likely be breakthroughs and setbacks along the way.
You may be cutting out other things besides gluten, and so keeping an accurate diary to chart your child’s progress can be a Godsend.
Write down everything your child eats, and include details of anything currently being cut from their diet. Record your observations of how it affects them, as well as your child’s. Keep track of any relevant data such as:
- Allergy symptoms
- How long they slept
- Their appetite
- Number of toilet visits
Gluten can be Good!
Don’t worry, you’re still on the right website! For me and millions of others, gluten is most definitely not good. But if your kids are healthy then I’ll take a step further and say, gluten is great!
Bread and pasta are good sources of fiber and carbs, and gluten contains nutrients such as:
- B vitamins
Furthermore, if you’re cutting out gluten you need to replace it with something else which isn’t always preferable. For example, rice and rice-based snacks have relatively high levels of arsenic.
How do you like the sound of free pretzels? OK, what if the free pretzels are fat-free and dairy-free? Do you want a sugar-free and caffeine-free cola to wash that down with? No kidding! Now show me to the gym!
In our society, we love the word ‘free’. We associate it with freedom, health, and $0. But sadly gluten-free products come at a price, and not just the financial one.
GF products generally contain more calories and fewer nutrients. That’s because they don’t contain gluten, which has the nutritional properties listed above. GF products often have more fat and sugar content to replace gluten and improve flavor.
GF Products Are Not Nicer
If you’ve ever had GF bread, you can skip this section. Gluten is what gives dough its elasticity. It’s why bread is soft and stretchy, and why pasta feels nice to chew. GF products generally don’t have these qualities. They are like a reproduction of the Mona Lisa on Pinterest. We can tell what it’s meant to be but it’s a poor imitation.
To add insult to injury, GF products are frequently upwards of three times more expensive than their gluten counterparts.
Replace Gluten With Wholefoods
If your kids have to go GF then it will need some adjustment. Don’t waste the opportunity to improve their diet. Rather than using GF bread and snacks, replace them with:
- Fresh fruit and veggies
- Nuts and seeds
- GF grains
Again, you can do this without going GF. Embrace the health benefits of a GFD but without cutting out wholegrain bread and brown pasta, which are great for most children!
Links With Other Conditions
CD is an autoimmune disease and it has strong links with other autoimmune diseases. People with type 1 diabetes and thyroid disease are significantly more likely to have CD, but sometimes the symptoms can be more subtle. They include
- Excessive drinking and/or urination
- Brain fog
If your child has an autoimmune disease and you’re worried about the effects of gluten then speak to your doctor.
Gluten intolerance is also more common among autistic children, and there is some evidence that a GFD may be beneficial for them. However, in blind tests the results of a GFD for autistic children were not as significant, suggesting a placebo effect for the parents, their children, or both.
How Can A GFD Have A Placebo Effect?
A placebo is a procedure or medication that has no genuine therapeutic properties. But the ritual of getting a prescription from your doctor, picking it up from the drug store, and taking medication three times a day can provide a psychological lift and improve wellbeing.
If your kids go on a GFD, it is a major lifestyle change for your whole family and is a much bigger commitment than simply taking medication. Both you and your child may feel pressure to believe it is beneficial, when in fact it is a placebo effect.
Celebrities, YouTubers, and influencers can have a huge impact on your kids and their views. Right now there are millions of videos, blogs, and social channels promoting the benefits of a GFD. They will say it’s a miracle diet that has changed their life in many ways, such as:
- They have more energy
- They feel more positive
- They lost weight
This may not be a placebo effect at all. If you cut out processed foods and replace them with veggies and fruit, it is likely that you will feel all those benefits and more.
Any change of diet is an opportunity to review and recalibrate what you eat and cut out bad habits. You can do all that without cutting out gluten. A GFD can be expensive, unnecessary, and unhealthy.
Celebrities can do some pretty questionable things, so when it comes to the health of your children, listen to dietitians and not Kardashians.
How Can A GFD Have A Nocebo Effect?
A nocebo is the opposite of a placebo. It is a feeling that the medication you are taking is having harmful effects. For example, a patient might read that their medication can cause headaches and itchy skin. After taking their medication they then begin to feel those side effects.
If your child needs to go on a GFD, it can take a while to see an improvement. Gluten intolerance causes swelling in the gut which takes time to heal and for digestion to become healthier. Keeping an accurate food diary is a great way to avoid the placebo and nocebo effect.
Gluten is like a curious kid–it hides in unexpected places. From French fries to malt vinegar, lip balm to vitamin supplements, you have to be on constant lookout.
This is where the severity of your child’s condition is an issue. When your child has been on a GFD, their symptoms should calm down. From here you may be able to allow small amounts of gluten in your kids’ diet without causing issues. If they do have a reaction, write it in the food diary.
Have you ever walked down a GF section of your local store and thought, ‘Ketchup? Do I need to buy GF ketchup now?’
Most ketchup recipes do not contain gluten. However, it is often manufactured in plants that use gluten for other products. This is called cross-contamination. The product doesn’t contain gluten, but the machinery used to transport and manufacture it does have contact with gluten.
So unless your child has severe reactions to gluten, you can go ahead and continue buying regular ketchup. But if your child has CD, you may need to ensure that most of the products they consume carry GF certification.
It can be hard enough to maintain a GFD when you’re with your child. But you will also have to make sure their requirements are met when they’re away. That includes:
- At playdates and sleepovers
- At birthday parties
- When trick-or-treating
- At school
- On school trips
- With relatives
Make sure you educate everyone about your child’s needs. If your child has a severe condition, consider giving them a packed lunch to take with them when they’re away. It offers peace of mind–imagine the trauma it would cause everyone if your child had a severe reaction after taking a bite from the wrong cookie.
Don’t forget to fill out a 504 plan to inform your school of your child’s condition and requirements.
If your child doesn’t require a GFD, great news! Having explored the benefits of the diet, you can incorporate them without denying them the foods they love. If your child does require a GFD, great news! You now have some idea of the journey ahead. At the end of that journey is a healthier, happier kid. . Enjoy the ride!
Here at Gone Gluten, we love healthy food–but kids deserve a treat now and again. Check out Taco Bell Gluten-Free Menu 2022: 8 Exciting Options