Is the Gluten-Free Diet a Good Choice For Kids? Experts Explore

Gluten Free diet

The gluten-free diet is a beneficial medical treatment for people who suffer from an autoimmune condition called celiac disease.

Celiac disease is when the small intestine is super-sensitive to gluten, leading to digestive issues such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, fatigue, or anemia. Unfortunately, the prevalence of celiac is rising—and there appears to be a disproportionate rise in growth in the gluten-free food industry. For one, research shows that people with celiac disease buy the majority of gluten-free items.

Some parents even put their child on a gluten-free diet, believing that it might help relieve some of their child’s symptoms—or that it is simply a healthier choice (sometimes even without seeking advice from a doctor or a dietician).

To educate people further, a new commentary published online Friday in The Journal of Pediatrics called, ‘The Gluten-Free Diet: Recognizing Fact, Fiction, and Fad,” aims to help clear-up common misconceptions about the gluten-free diet. The commentary was headed by Columbia University Medical Center’s Dr. Norelle R. Reilly.

One such misconception is that there are no disadvantages to the gluten-free diet. The truth is—there are no health benefits for people without wheat allergies or celiac disease.  In fact,  for people without celiac disease, implementing this diet could lead to increased calorie and fat intake as well as nutritional deficiencies!

Another misunderstanding is that some believe gluten is toxic; however, no research supports this.

Some people believe that they should follow a gluten-free diet (or place their children on the diet) if wheat allergies run in the family. Again, this diet isn’t a requirement for healthy individuals, including healthy infants, who have relatives with celiac disease or who may be at risk of developing celiac.

After seeking approval from a doctor or a registered dietician, a gluten-free diet can improve the lives of those with wheat allergies—but without a proper diagnosis of celiac disease, there is no concrete evidence that shows that a gluten-free diet can benefit a child.

Researchers hint that parents should be aware of any potential financial and nutritional consequences for unnecessarily following a gluten-free diet—for themselves and for their children.

Reilly, N. R., “The Gluten-Free Diet: Recognizing Fact, Fiction, and Fad,” The Journal of Pediatrics, published online May 13, 2016; doi:
Ludvigsson, J.F., et al. “Increasing incidence of celiac disease in a North American population,” The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2013; 108: 818–824.