Is a gluten-free diet healthier for children?
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Nearly 30% of Americans try to avoid gluten, and some stores have entire sections dedicated to gluten-free products. But is a gluten-free diet healthier for children? Pediatrician Melody Elliott, DO, explained what parents need to know.
Are gluten free products healthier than regular products made with gluten?
Studies have revealed that products labeled “gluten-free” are not nutritionally better compared to “regular” children’s foods. Approximately 88% of packaged gluten-free foods can be classified as poor nutritional quality because of high levels of sugar, sodium or fat.
“Since whole grains are important for children, removing all gluten-containing products leaves a big hole in their diets,” Dr. Elliott said. “If there is no medical reason to eliminate gluten from your child’s diet, it is not recommended.”
Instead, it is recommended that children eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein and dairy. Each food group supplies important nutrients.
What if my child has a medical reason to avoid gluten?
If your child suffers from celiac disease or has gluten intolerance, here are some tips to make following a gluten-free diet a little easier:
- Shop the perimeter of your grocery store. You’ll find fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy, eggs and legumes that are naturally 100% gluten free.
- Experiment with naturally gluten-free grains. These include millet, amaranth and quinoa.
- Avoid pre-packaged and ready-made items. These often contain additives to increase shelf life that may contain gluten.
- Consider a multivitamin. Children following a gluten-free diet are more likely to have vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
If you have any questions or concerns about if a gluten-free diet is healthier for children, talk to your child’s pediatrician.
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