Why Healthy Kids Don’t Benefit From Gluten-Free Diets

Gluten-free may be a current food craze, but don’t ditch the gluten when it comes to feeding your kids, say nutritionists and pediatric health professionals.

Gluten, a high-molecular-weight seed storage protein commonly found in grass-related grains such as wheat, barley and rye, is a composite protein composed of glutenin and prolamins, and is an integral component of a variety of wheat-containing foods, including cereals and pastas.

In the past, only individuals diagnosed with celiac disease (about 1 percent of the population) avoided gluten, according to the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. For them, repeated ingestion of gluten can damage the body’s intestinal lining and lead to serious nutritional and gastrointestinal problems.

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Lately, however, gluten-free foods have been misrepresented as a healthy diet alternative, influencing many to believe that it’s harmful.

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Robin J. Simpson, D.O., a primary care physician with ChristianaCare Primary Care at Springside in Newark, says there is concern among experts that subjecting children to gluten-free diets, without appropriate medical supervision, can be nutritionally unsound.

To date, scientific research has not determined that gluten is bad for the human body. Protein is an important third of a healthy diet (the other two being fat and carbohydrates), and in the majority of children, it easily passes through the intestine without ill effects.

Feeling bloated or crummy after eating gluten-containing foods does not necessarily mean gluten is to blame, observes Liz Abel, a licensed integrative nutritionist with First State Health & Wellness Integrative Health Center in Wilmington.

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“Discomfort could result from other ingredients, how the grain was grown and processed, or how it was prepared,” she explains, pointing to glyphosate, a herbicide heavily used in big ag.

Abel suggests that restricting gluten might result in long-term health problems, also noting that gluten-free foods are often higher in fat and calories and lacking fiber essential for health.

Our experts agree that a balanced diet containing fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and a variety of carbohydrate sources is the best way for healthy children to stay healthy.

Words by Mona de Crinis. Published as “Trust Your Gut” in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of 302Health magazine.

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