Gluten is a hot topic these days. Gluten-free diets are becoming more prevalent and you’ve probably noticed a rapid expansion of gluten-free foods in the grocery store. It’s only natural to wonder if this is something that you and your family should consider. Ashley Kim, a registered dietitian with the Get up & Go program at Children's Health℠, answers common questions about gluten-free diets to help you make the right choice for your family.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, rye, barley, and foods or products made with these grains. It provides the texture and flavor in moist, fluffy breads and cakes. Bread, pasta, cereal and soup are common foods that often contain gluten. And while gluten is not found in oats, it is often added during processing.
Avoiding gluten completely can be harder than it sounds because it is used in many products you might not expect, like soy sauce and medicines. The only way to know if foods are gluten-free is to read the label. Please note that "gluten" is not likely to be listed on the ingredients list, so look for gluten containing foods like wheat or rye. "It is important to remember that 'wheat-free' is not synonymous with 'gluten-free' products," Ashley warns. Look for foods with the certified gluten-free symbol to easily determine if the product is safe to eat. The term gluten-free is regulated by the FDA, so the product must comply with their guidelines to have this label.
Who should consider a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet is prescribed for those with a gluten sensitivity as well as people with an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease. Those with celiac disease experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal bloating and pain, diarrhea and fatigue, due to an immune response to gluten. People who have gluten sensitivity may also experience these symptoms but will not have the immune response and intestinal damage that celiac disease causes.
Outside of these conditions, there are no benefits associated with eating a gluten-free diet. Avoiding grains completely can cause children to miss out on important nutrients like B vitamins and fiber.
Why am I hearing so much about gluten-free diets?
Celiac disease is on the rise in the United States. According to the Mayo Clinic, since 1950 the incidence of this disease has increased fourfold. Gluten-free diets have become a topic of conversation primarily due to the rising awareness of celiac disease and gluten's effect on the intestinal system, but also because of our country's fondness for fad diets.
If your child is not having problems with gluten-containing foods, there is no need to worry! It's important that your child eats a balanced diet to be healthy. If you are concerned that your child may be reacting to the gluten in foods or other products, learn more about the signs of celiac disease and call your doctor to receive further guidance.
The Childhood Celiac Disease Program at Children's Health℠ is the only medical pediatric celiac program in North Texas, and offers a multidisciplinary approach to care, including dietary and psychological support. Learn more about our program and services.
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