You have probably been hearing a lot about gluten lately. Grocery stores are beginning to place special signs out that note certain items that are “gluten-free.” Restaurant menus have a specific “gluten-free” section. Maybe you even know someone that has sworn off gluten. All of this attention on gluten may have you wondering if you and your family should begin a gluten-free diet.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. You may think that you only have to avoid bread and pasta in order to go gluten-free, but that isn’t the case. Nearly all processed foods contain gluten because it makes them taste better and improves the texture. This not only includes all foods that require flour (wheat), but gluten can also be found in deli meats, soups, and even French fries.
Why are People Avoiding Gluten?
Gluten doesn’t just affect adults. A reaction to the protein can happen at any age. Unfortunately, the foods we eat today are not as wholesome as they once were. Take the organic craze for example – people choose organic foods because they are grown without the use of harmful chemicals. Grain products are not any different. Wheat today, is not the wheat our ancestors ate. It is genetically modified to grow stronger, faster, and resist insects and certain crop diseases.
What doctors and scientists are beginning to discover is that gluten is making people sick. Some people cannot tolerate the protein and the body rejects it in a number of ways. The most common form of rejection is through digestive illnesses. However, gluten intolerance has also been linked to rashes, acne, headaches, mental disorders, and obesity (just to name a few).
Today, celiac disease is the condition most widely linked to gluten. It is an autoimmune disorder that triggers an attack on the intestines. When the intestines are attacked from the inside, the body has trouble digesting food and absorbing nutrients, which makes people feel sick and become malnourished.
Symptoms of celiac disease include:
· Stomach bloating
· Weight gain or weight loss
Untreated celiac leads to anemia, neurological disorders, and osteoporosis. A simple blood test will show if a person has celiac disease, or not.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
If you think a negative test for celiac leaves you in the clear, then unfortunately you’re mistaken. A whole new understanding of gluten has lead doctors to diagnose more than 18 million Americans with as “non-celiac” gluten sensitive. This means that the intestines do not have the internal damage that a person with celiac does; however, the body has all the same symptoms as a reaction to gluten.
The decision to go gluten-free isn’t easy, especially when a child is involved. People are trying a g-free diet because they are getting sick from gluten or they want to see what all the fuss is about. Many people that do not need to be gluten-free are eliminating it from the diet simply because it makes them feel better.
The positives about going gluten-free are:
· More energy
· Weight loss
· Clearer skin
· Resolved medical issues
That’s the good news. The bad news is that a gluten-free diet can be difficult to follow. For children this means always watching what they eat and no longer sharing snacks with the classroom or at a birthday party. Think of gluten intolerance as an allergy – it needs to be treated much like a nut or lactose allergy. Although your child will not need to carry around an Epi-Pen, he or she could get extremely sick if they have celiac disease and do not follow a gluten-free diet.
If you, or anyone in your family has any digestive issues (or any other unexplained illness), you will want to get tested for celiac disease.
In addition to testing for celiac, the only way to determine if there is a non-celiac gluten intolerance is to go gluten-free for at least one month. This means a lot of food label reading; however, medical experts agree that the best way to go g-free is to do so naturally. This means you should eat foods that are naturally free of grains such as meats, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. It may sound impossible – but it can be done.
The Gluten-Free Child
If your child tests positive for celiac disease, then he or she must follow a gluten-free diet at all times. It’s your responsibility as a parent to provide an age-appropriate explanation for why this is vital to their health. The diet will be difficult to follow at first, but once your child begins to feel better, it will all be worth it.
Be sure he or she knows all the foods they must avoid. Many companies are jumping aboard the gluten-free bandwagon and catering to this need. Look for food labels marked gluten-free and remember to stick to items naturally gluten-free when in doubt. In addition, check out your local bakery as you may find that they make some fabulous gluten-free baked goods.
A Gluten-Free Family
The very best thing you can do to support a gluten-free child is to go gluten-free yourself. Celiac disease has been noted as a hereditary disease, but even if you and the other family members test negative – consider going at it as a team. Becoming a gluten-free family will be important to your child because it shows support, makes mealtime easier, and keeps tempting foods out of the home.
Even if no one in the family tests positive for celiac disease, you may want to become gluten-free for all the health benefits. Eliminating gluten from the diet (even if only for a little while) cannot hurt. Give it a try to see how each person’s body reacts. You may find that it is the best thing for everyone.
Recommended Reading for Going G-Free
Without a doubt, unless you have already cut processed foods out of your diet, going gluten-free will be difficult for the first few weeks. This is only because it takes some time to get used to making different food choices. However, once you get used to it, you will automatically reach for that banana instead of the Goldfish crackers.
It is also important to know and understand that many people go through a withdrawal stage. This is perfectly normal, as the body is not getting something that it used to having all the time. Withdrawal symptoms range from person to person, but they can include things like headaches and moodiness. These symptoms will go away within a few weeks as the body becomes accustomed to not eating grains.
For more on gluten, and how to make the gluten-free transition, check out these best-sellers:
· Gluten-Free Kids by Danna Korn
· Living Gluten-Free for Dummies by Danna Korn
· Getting Your Kid on a Gluten-Free Diet by Susan Lord
· Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D.
· The G Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide by Elisabeth Hasselbeck
There are also hundreds of gluten-free cookbooks, so you’ll have no trouble coming up with delicious recipes the whole family will love!
Anytime a person makes a major change in their life, there will be some challenges. If gluten is making your child ill, eliminating the protein is the only way to get him or her back to health. As difficult as the transition might seem, once it occurs, everyone will notice the positive impact it makes.