Can Gluten-Free Foods Fuel Your Kids?

When it comes to food trends, “gluten-free” (GF) is at the top of the heap. Some people claim that the meal plan has helped them lose weight, have more energy, and just feel better. But is it better fuel for your kids?

Unless your child has a specific medical reason to avoid gluten, there’s little proof that a GF meal plan is better than the healthy, balanced foods that all kids need. Before you start planning GF meals, it’s important to understand the basics of this approach to eating.

What It Means to Go Gluten-Free

Gluten is a protein found in some grains. If your child goes on a GF diet, they’ll avoid all food and drinks that have:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Triticale (a cross between wheat and barley)

Instead, they’ll focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free. These include fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, beans, legumes, and most dairy products.

Some grains and starches are OK on a gluten-free diet, like:

  • Buckwheat
  • Corn and cornmeal
  • Rice
  • Soy
  • Quinoa
  • Tapioca

Special GF flours are also made from many of these grains.

Is a Gluten-Free Diet a Healthy Choice for Kids?

The only people who need to stick to a gluten-free diet are those with celiac disease, a condition in which gluten can damage the small intestine. Kids who are allergic to gluten, like those who have a wheat allergy, should avoid it, too.

For everyone else, gluten is not unhealthy. Avoiding it won’t make your kids “feel better” or have more energy. In fact, trying to cut it out of your child’s diet may make it harder for him to get enough key nutrients, like iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B, and folate. Plus, since so many grains are off-limits, a GF diet can mean he’ll have a tough time getting enough fiber.

It’s still the overall quality of the foods your child eats that makes the biggest difference in how he feels. Focus on helping him choose a variety of whole, healthy foods and cutting out processed ones. (Packages of gluten-free cookies or potato chips aren’t any healthier than the regular kinds.)

Continued

Meals and snacks should have plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. Sugary, fried, or salty treats are OK every once in a while, but not every day. That balance is what kids need to have energy for school, feel motivated to play and exercise, and sleep well.

If your child does have a medical reason to cut out gluten, talk with his doctor or a dietitian to make sure he gets the right balance of foods and nutrients. “As long as the focus is on naturally GF food like vegetables, high-quality protein, healthy fats (like nuts, seeds, and avocado), fruit, and whole grains, your child’s diet will be in good shape,” says Robin Foroutan, of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on May 30, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Robin Foroutan, integrative medicine dietitian and spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, New York City.

Alissa Rumsey, registered dietitian and spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, New York City.

Lori Zanini, registered dietitian, Los Angeles.

Harvard Health Publications: “Going gluten-free just because? Here’s what you need to know.”

Mayo Clinic: “Gluten-free diet.”

UW Health: “The Reality Behind Gluten-Free Diets.”

Beyond Celiac: “What is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?” "The Gluten-Free Diet,” “Resources for Teens on a Gluten-Free Diet,” “Weight Gain on Gluten Free Diet.”

Clinical Nutrition: “Gluten free diet and nutrient deficiencies: a review.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Following a Gluten-Free Diet for the Treatment of Celiac Disease.”

Celiac Disease Foundation: “What Can I Eat?” “What Is Celiac Disease?” “Non-celiac Wheat Sensitivity.”

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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