If individuals have celiac disease, they need to steer away from foods containing gluten because it causes intestinal problems — but in some cases, people decide to cut gluten out of their diets just because they are following a new diet trend or they think non-gluten foods are healthier.
Gluten-free products are becoming so popular, writes Catherine Cabral-Isabedra for TechTimes, that sales are expected to skyrocket to $24 billion by 2020.
The "health" industry is nudging those who want to be healthy toward cleaner, more natural food choices, but experts are concerned. Specialists say gluten-free foods, when given to healthy children, can be harmful.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Columbia University Medical Center's Pediatric Celiac Disease Dr. Norelle Reilly wrote detailed her comments in the Journal of Pediatrics to explain what should be considered before putting a child on a gluten-free diet.
Approximately 1% of adults in the US are affected by celiac disease, and this small population will benefit by shifting to a gluten-free diet. Children have not been found to have intestinal problems from gluten. Taking gluten away from kids could interfere with their nutritional needs.
Because of the manner in which gluten-free processed foods are manipulated, they may not have nutrients such as vitamin B complex, vitamin D, fiber, folate, magnesium, calcium, and iron, all of which young people need.
The best diet for a child is a balanced array of fresh fruit, lean protein, and carbohydrates. Parents may be, instead, getting information from the Internet without any input from their health care providers.
"They were trying to treat some sort of condition or symptom, such as an abdominal pain, diarrhea, headaches, or problems with attention," Reilly said. "Kids will often improve no matter what you do. So it's often hard to tell if they're improved because of a dietary change."
Going gluten-free can make a youngster self-conscious, can create a financial burden, and may affect children's future choices, according to Reilly. She added that parents should stop trying to fix something that is not broken.
If a young one is on a gluten-free regimen, grains like wheat, pasta, barley, bread, and rye are eliminated, reports Render Media's Michael Allen. Reilly added that obesity, new-onset insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome were sometimes diagnosed after individuals adopted a gluten-free lifestyle.
There is also no evidence that a gluten-free diet will prevent celiac disease. Reilly also emphasizes that gluten is not toxic. Celiac disease is hereditary and can be described as an autoimmune disorder.
Cristela Guerra, reporting for The Boston Globe, writes that a 2014 survey by New Product Development, a marketing research firm, found that one in four participants believed that gluten-free foods were healthier and 11% were following a gluten-free food program.
Medical Daily's Samantha Olson reports the Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation agrees with this advice from Reilly:
"Parents should be counseled as to the possible financial, social, and nutritional consequences of unnecessary implementation of a gluten-free diet." Reilly concluded. "Health care providers may not be able to end the [gluten-free diet] fad, but can certainly begin to play a larger role in educating parents and preventing nutritional deficiencies in those choosing to stay-gluten free."