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Is gluten-free healthy for my non-celiac child?

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The purpose of this post is to address the use of gluten-free diets in children without Celiac’s disease, an allergy to wheat, or gluten sensitivity. All of these diseases and disorders are determined through proper medical screening and testing. If parents think their child may have one of these issues, they should seek guidance from their health care provider.

Gluten-free diets continue to grow in popularity for people without Celiac’s disease, wheat allergy, or gluten sensitivity. Many people swear that removing gluten from their diets has improved gastrointestinal problems, headaches, skin problems, behavioral issues, and psychiatric disorders. Due to the results that some parents have found with lower-gluten or gluten-free diets in their personal lives, some have decided to extend this way of eating to include their children.

What is gluten and how is it present in food?

Gluten-free diets are currently recommended for children with Celiac’s disease, a wheat allergy, or gluten sensitivity. In each of these cases, dieticians are involved to make sure that the gluten-free diets are healthy, balanced, and meet the nutritional needs of the growing child.

As a reminder, gluten is a water-soluble protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other cross-breed grains, such as triticale. Gluten is responsible for the elastic and chewy texture of bread, pasta, cookies, etc. made with flour.

A gluten-free product is defined as a food that:

  • Is free of gluten because of the make-up of the food structure, such as rice. Rice is gluten free because rice does not contain the gluten protein.
  • Does not contain any ingredient that contains gluten. Some breads and cookies are made with bean flour, instead of wheat flour, so they can be labeled as gluten free. Or,
  • Foods can be labeled gluten-free if the gluten has been removed. There are special processes in which gluten flours are fermented in a special way that lowers their gluten content to below 20ppm, which classifies the product as gluten-free. This is commonly called “digested flour.”

So, is a gluten-free diet healthy for all children?

A gluten-free diet is not for all children and can actually be less healthy than a traditional diet due to reduced nutritional benefits.

Gluten-free products often have higher sugar and fat contents than normal gluten products. This happens because the food makers must replace the missing gluten with something else to improve texture or taste. The comfort foods commonly enjoyed in childhood often have gluten, such as cookies, cakes, sandwiches, fish sticks and chicken nuggets. When gluten is removed from these foods, food manufacturers must reformulate their products to maintaining familiar flavors and textures. This usually involves increasing sugar, sodium, and fat. Therefore, gluten-free products may be more calorie dense than their normal gluten counterparts. In this sense, gluten-free diets should not be used for weight-loss or weight-control.

Are gluten-free foods more expensive?

Obviously, food costs can soar when purchasing special items that have to meet specific criteria to be labeled gluten-free. Modifying industrial recipes, running independent lines of gluten-free products to prevent cross-contamination, and producing products for a limited number of users is expensive for food manufacturers. So, in corporate fashion, they pass those extra expenses onto the consumer. A 2008 study on the costs of gluten-free foods in comparison to their regular counterparts found that gluten-free items were 242% higher in price1. For individuals with Celiac’s disease, wheat allergies, or gluten sensitivities, the extra costs have to be absorbed because the definitive treatment for these conditions is avoiding all gluten. However, for families that are not suffering from these health variations, the increase in costs is voluntary.

Do gluten-free products provide the same nutritional value?

Gluten-free foods may also lack the usual supplementation that occurs in regular foods. For example, regular breakfast cereals are routinely supplemented with vitamins and minerals that are difficult to consume in natural states in sufficient quantities. Some examples include folate, zinc, niacin, and iron. However, gluten-free breakfast cereals do not normally have this additional supplementation and therefore gluten-free eaters may be lacking essential vitamins or minerals if they are not also taking appropriate supplements and are under the guidance of a dietary professional. These matters are more complex when gluten-free diets are applied to children who have growing bodies and particular nutritional needs associated with that growth, both mentally and physically.

So what recommendations are there for parents who want to improve their children’s diets?

Follow these easy suggestions to improve your child’s diet, which may improve their behavior, attention, weight, and some skin issues:

  • Limit industrial snacks. Industrial cookies, cakes, candy, chips, and pre-made meals are full of artificial ingredients to increase their shelf life and preserve flavors and textures over an extended period of time. Additionally, they are usually loaded with low-quality grains and fats while also being very high in sugars and salts.
  • Encourage eating a wide-range of natural, whole foods. At snack and mealtime encourage, through example, eating foods close to their original states. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean cuts of meat, fish, whole grains, and natural dairy products are wonderful sources of whole foods. These can be combined into unique meals to keep things interesting.
  • Offer water or milk rather than soda or juice. The human body needs water for every cellular function. Water is the best beverage for children. Low-fat dairy milk is a good second best, but should be limited to 3 cups per day (Children between 1-2 years should drink whole milk). Sodas and juice, due to their high sugar content (juice is high in sugar because all the fiber of the fruit as been stripped away), should be offered occasionally.
  • Eat at home as much as possible. Eating at home gives families the most control over their food. Parents can choose how much fat and seasoning (salt) to add during food preparation. Additionally, eating as a family is still considered a great way to support a healthy relationship with food and for parents to control their children’s intake2.

Gluten-free diets may not be the most nutritional or healthy for children not suffering from Celiac’s disease, a wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity. Parents are encouraged to consult with their health care provider if they suspect any of these conditions.


1 Stevens, L. & Rashid, M. (2008). Gluten-free and regular foods: A cost comparison. Can J Diet Pract Res, 69(3):147-50

2 Trofholz, A.C., Tate, A.D., Draxten, M.L., et al. (2016). What’s being served for dinner? An exploratory investigation of the associations between the healthfulness of family meals and child dietary intake. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. [Epub ahead of print] doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.08.006

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Comments 2

nathan dwyer on Saturday, 03 June 2017 07:57
Good information

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Excellent read, Positive site, where did u come up with the information on this posting? I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style. Thanks a million and please keep up the effective work. Writer @ [url=https://rospher.com/]custom essay writing service[/url]
Deanna Marie Mason on Monday, 05 June 2017 12:16
Thanks!

Hi Nathan! Thanks for your feedback and positive comments. With more than 20 years of experience in paediatric health and nearly as long as a researcher, I have access to top scientific and health publications to keep me up to speed on what is happening in healthcare. I use this information to write posts that I think parents would find useful. I'm pleased to see that you are enjoying it. Take care and be well, Deanna

Hi Nathan! Thanks for your feedback and positive comments. With more than 20 years of experience in paediatric health and nearly as long as a researcher, I have access to top scientific and health publications to keep me up to speed on what is happening in healthcare. I use this information to write posts that I think parents would find useful. I'm pleased to see that you are enjoying it. Take care and be well, Deanna
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Thursday, 29 June 2017

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