As the gluten-free movement grows ever more mainstream and supermarkets dedicate entire aisles to celiac-friendly foods, many people perceive a gluten-free diet as a healthy choice, but is it? A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics says it's not necessarily the right choice for children. According to Dr. Norelle Reilly, of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center, the desire to put a child on a gluten-free diet may be due to some common misconceptions.
Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, cannot be consumed by people with celiac disease because of the risk of triggering an immune response that can damage the digestive system. Dr. Reilly notes that some parents are feeding their children gluten-free diet believing it will prevent them from developing celiac. She notes several downsides to this approach.
There's no proof that removing gluten from a diet is beneficial unless CD or a wheat sensitivity or allergy is present. She argues that another, often overlooked reason is that going gluten-free may lead to a higher fat and calorie intake since packaged foods labeled gluten-free tend to contain more fats and sugars. Furthermore, anyone giving up gluten missing out on its nutritional benefits such as B vitamins, folate, and iron -- gluten-free products often are not fortfied with these nutrients. Other downsides include the cost (gluten-free products tend to be more expensive) and for children social isolation (missing out on the pizza party among other things).
Parents considering putting their child on a gluten-free diet should, Dr. Reilly recommends, talk to an experienced, registered dietitian first.