FOR MOST CHILDREN, GLUTEN IS OK
Gluten is a protein found in many (but not all) grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. Children who have a condition called celiac disease must for sure avoid gluten, but for most other kids, eating gluten is perfectly fine.
With celiac disease, consumption of gluten causes an inflammatory reaction of the lining of the small intestine. This leads to poor absorption of nutrients, abdominal discomfort, and other symptoms. The incidence of celiac disease has increased dramatically and is thought to be in the range of 1%. Physicians can often diagnose celiac disease using a simple blood test, and symptoms respond well to a gluten-free diet. Children who have celiac disease must avoid eating gluten.
However, the great majority of kids do not have celiac disease, and for them eating gluten is fine. The mistake most commonly goes like this. Children have a natural tendency toward respiratory problems, and eventually a parent dutifully and accurately notices that the asthma, allergy or sinus flares worsen considerably when the child consumes breads, pastries, pizzas, muffins, and the like. The parent decides to go “gluten free,” all these foods are reduced or stopped, and the child dramatically improves. The parent now restricts the child from all wheat and other gluten containing grain products, while depleting the college savings to fund the purchase of expensive, processed gluten free specialty food items.
IS THIS THE RIGHT THING TO DO?
Not quite. The parent here has fallen into a classic trap. Whole grains provide healthy fiber and nutrients for children, but parents must know how to use them. First and most importantly, toast all breads. In addition, children will tolerate flat breads, like pitta breads or tortillas, much better than puffy breads, which should be reduced or avoided. This also means children should avoid eating things like muffins or cakes.
These too will cause congestion and other health problems, not because of the gluten, but rather due to their moist, mucus-producing qualities. The very best approach: cook a whole grain like rice, barley, quinoa etc. as is, then serve alongside some protein and cooked vegetables for a delicious hot nutritious well-rounded meal.
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