Many parents are confused about whether a gluten free diet can help their child. Some doctors will say that a gluten free diet has no benefit for anyone who does not have Coeliac. Other health practitioners might say that everyone should avoid gluten. But in my experience, the answer to this question isn’t black and white.
Watch the video or continue reading below to find out more about whether a gluten free diet will help with your child’s health conditions.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a group of proteins that are found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and spelt. Modern wheat is much higher in gluten than some of the ancient grains such as spelt.
Why is gluten an issue in the modern diet?
There are a few reasons why we are experiencing more issues with gluten these days:
- We are consuming more gluten overall. The average diet includes cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, pasta for dinner, and wheat-based snack foods in between.
- Gluten is abrasive to the gut. Some describe it as rubbing sandpaper on the gut wall. This may explain why there is a strong correlation between gluten and leaky gut syndrome.
- Gluten can also cause inflammation. Some people have a stronger response to it, and we don’t know why. But it does mean that people with inflammatory conditions are more susceptible to issues with gluten.
- Modern wheat is higher in gluten and lower in nutrients. This high-yield strain also requires more pesticides, so more traces of pesticides get into the wheat we consume.
- There have been changes to how we process and prepare grains. The husk is usually removed, taking a lot of the nutrients and fibre with it. We no longer soak grains like our ancestors, and are more likely to grab packaged options that have added sugars and preservatives.
When gluten can cause problems
We know that gluten is a problem if you have Coeliac disease. Coeliac is an autoimmune disease where the immune system damages the villi in the digestive tract when gluten is consumed.
Another known problem is wheat allergies. This is a serious allergy that can cause an anaphylactic response from the immune system. In this case, wheat must be avoided.
But then there is a problem known as non-Coeliac gluten sensitivity. This issue is not recognised by many doctors at this stage. It is a tricky one, as there is no definitive test for the sensitivity.
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity are often vague. They can include:
- Brain fog
- Abdominal pain
- Mood disturbances
Unfortunately, some of these symptoms are more difficult to detect in kids.
What conditions can benefit from a gluten free diet?
Eczema, asthma and allergies are a few inflammatory conditions that are common in children. In this case, gluten may not be the root cause of the issue, but it can increase inflammation. So reducing or eliminating gluten may be beneficial for children who experience these problems.
Children with ADHD or that are on the autism spectrum can experience significant benefits when gluten is eliminated.
In kids on the spectrum, the body has problems breaking down proteins, so they will enter the bloodstream when only partially digested. The proteins then cross over the blood-brain-barrier, causing issues with mood, concentration and even pain tolerance. The most problematic proteins are gluten and casein, which is the protein found in dairy.
Because of the additional impact on the brain, it’s best to remove gluten for at least 12 weeks to see if it’s beneficial. However, gluten can be a bit addictive for kids who experience this. That’s why I highly recommend getting professional support if you are considering a gluten free diet for a child on the spectrum.
Common digestive complaints such as constipation, abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements may improve with the removal of gluten. Reflux in babies may be relieved if Mum eliminates gluten from her diet.
Even if gluten isn’t the culprit, reducing or removing it can lighten the load on the digestive system. If you’re not sure if going gluten free is the answer, the best way to find out is giving it a try! I recommend 6 weeks with no gluten, as this gives the body time to recover if gluten is an issue.
What to do when starting a gluten free diet
When people eliminate gluten or other allergenic foods from the diet, they often forget to work on repairing the damage. Whether you have Coeliac, an allergy or an intolerance to gluten, your gut will have felt the impact. When you remove gluten from your child’s diet (or your own!), you want to optimise gut function and repair any damage that has been done.
- Consuming probiotics (good bacteria) through food and/or supplements
- Supporting healthy gut flora with prebiotics from food and/or supplements
- Including gut-nourishing foods such as fermented vegetables and bone broth
The dangers of a gluten free diet
Generally, removing gluten is not problematic in itself, as there are no nutrients found in gluten-containing grains that can’t be found elsewhere. However, there are some things to consider when taking gluten out of the diet.
When you first start a gluten free approach, you might go to the health food section of your supermarket to find gluten free options. And there are a lot of options these days – but we don’t want to replace gluten with processed options! They are often full of sugars, sweeteners, additives and other not-so-healthy ingredients.
There’s nothing wrong with an occasional gluten free cookie, but processed options are best kept as a treat, not a staple. The best way to approach this is to focus on wholefoods instead.
You may have seen the research that found people on a gluten free diet had higher levels of arsenic and mercury in the body. This finding might be a little scary, as these are not things we want in our bodies, or in our kids!
The reason behind this finding is because many people will switch gluten out for rice-based products. Rice soaks up a lot of toxic metals through water and fertilisers, so if you’re consuming rice products 2-3 times per day, you’re more likely to end up with high levels of these metals.
To avoid this, your best bet is to switch up your gluten-free grains. Rice is fine to eat sometimes, but try alternating it with quinoa or buckwheat. For some recipe inspiration, make sure you head over to the recipe vault.
There are a lot of corn-based substitutes out there, including cereals, crackers and wraps. The problem with this is that corn is a common allergen. So you may remove gluten from the diet but not see any benefits, as the body is reacting to the corn. Many people also experience digestive issues with corn.
The good news is, all of these problems can be worked around. I recommend using wholegrains such as buckwheat and quinoa as substitutes for gluten-containing grains. Reducing the total intake of grains and focusing meals around proteins and vegetables instead is a great way to avoid many of the issues with a gluten free diet.
Reducing or eliminating gluten from your child’s diet doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. To find out more about working with me, click here.