Gluten Sensitive Kids: The Signs, Symptoms & Solutions

Does your child go into a fog after a large pasta dinner?  Or have you noticed that they seem to have tummy upsets more often than you think they should after polishing off a sandwich or a slice of pizza? If so, you might be dealing with a child who is gluten-sensitive.

Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten is a protein found naturally in grain products like wheat, barley, and rye.  And increasingly, children are becoming sensitive to it.

Gluten sensitivity – also called non-celiac gluten intolerance – is fortunately not the same thing as celiac disease, a serious digestive condition which can eventually lead to weight loss, chronic malnutrition, and anemia.  However, it can cause your child a lot of pain and discomfort – and while there is no cure for it, it is treatable.

Signs and Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity in children can be difficult for parents to spot.  One of the reasons is that this problem often manifests differently in youngsters. Like adults, children who are sensitive to gluten can get typical digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, stomach cramping, pain, and either constipation or diarrhea.  However, there can be other symptoms as well that are more difficult to spot. 

For instance, children can sometimes get a skin reaction such as hives or a rash when they eat a high-gluten meal.  They can also suffer from headaches or migraines, unexplained fatigue, “brain fog” – a sort of mental sluggishness – and even aching or sores in the muscles and the joints.

Getting the Diagnosis

Because the symptoms of gluten sensitivity can be vague in children, this condition is also more difficult to diagnose.  While celiac disease can be diagnosed with procedures like a biopsy, there are no such tests for gluten sensitivity.  Diagnosis is usually done through an elimination diet.  This means that if gluten is the suspected culprit, parents eliminate it from their child’s diet for a given length of time (usually 2-4 weeks). If the symptoms improve, then it is assumed that a gluten intolerance was the problem.

Treatment for Gluten Sensitivity

Although gluten sensitivity is a separate condition from celiac disease, the treatment for both remains the same – a gluten-free diet.

Many parents may feel understandably nervous when they embark on this change. In our grain-happy culture, gluten is everywhere – and in order to avoid it, parents must keep a whole lot of things in check.

What to Avoid in a Gluten-Free Diet

Some of this sounds obvious. In order to avoid this protein that is found in wheat, rye, and barley, you have to avoid food products that contain those grains.  Baked goods such as bread, pasta, pizza crusts, cookies, cakes – anything with wheat flour, in short – is a no-no.  Because so much of the American diet is based on items like these, avoiding just these products may seem like an impossible challenge.

But there’s more. Americans get a lot of hidden gluten – in products we probably don’t even think about!  Unless you’re certain that a certain product is gluten-free, you should also avoid fried foods (which are usually battered with flour), many gravies, sauces, and thick or creamed soups (which use flour for a thickener), and even processed foods like seasoned rice mixes which can utilize wheat products as well.  Any products containing farina, semolina, or graham flour should also be avoided.

What to Embrace in a Gluten-Free Diet

While the gluten-free diet can feel incredibly restrictive at first, it still allows for healthy, balanced meals. This diet can include red and white meats, and fish or seafood, most dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables.  And there are in fact many grain options which are gluten-free and which can be used as wheat substitutes.  Corn and rice are the most popular and widely-used gluten-free grains.  Other lesser-known grains which are good gluten-free alternatives include flax, millet, quinoa, and amaranth.

The good news is that because gluten sensitivity seems to be on the rise, it’s much easier to be on a gluten-free diet than it was even a decade or so ago.  It’s now possible to purchase a wide variety of gluten-free flours (based on corn, rice, soy, almonds, potatoes, or some of the grains mentioned above) or other products made from them, such as pasta and bread.  This allows for kids who are gluten sensitive to have a nearly normal diet, even enjoying modified versions of typical favorites like cookies and pizza.  So no one will feel left out!

What gluten free products do you like – and which ones work particularly well for your gluten sensitive child? Tell us in the comments below!

Tags : health   nutrition   allergies   gluten   gluten free   

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