A Guide to Gluten-Free Diets for Kids

A Guide to Gluten-Free Diets for Kids

Article By: Dominica Dieffenbach, RDN

Dominica is a Registered Dietitian and mom of 2 kiddos currently specializing in the special needs pediatric population. She has over 15 years of experience as an RD, working with a wide variety of patients to provide them with individualized medical nutrition therapy and education.

With the increase in gluten-free foods available at the store, as well as the number of adults we hear that are following a gluten-free diet, this may have you wondering if your kids should be partaking in this lifestyle as well... Some questions that often arise for parents include — what are the symptoms of gluten sensitivity in kids, what does a gluten-free menu plan look like, and what are some easy gluten-free foods?

1) What is gluten, & which foods are children on a gluten-free diet unable to eat?

Gluten is a protein found naturally in certain grains including wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats and is often added to a variety of other foods to enhance their taste and texture. For those who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten causes a release of antibodies, which go on to attack the small intestine causing bloating and diarrhea. If left untreated (by not adhering to a strict gluten-free diet), this can cause damage to the intestinal villi to the point where nutrients cannot be absorbed. This is of particular concern for kids, as it may inhibit proper growth and development.

2) What causes celiac disease?

Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease, affects 1 in 133 Americans. However, recent screenings suggest that the prevalence may be higher than this. Some people develop celiac disease later in life, and others start showing symptoms very early in childhood. There is a genetic component that makes it more likely for someone to develop celiac disease, as well is more prevalent in those with other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes. Often it is not fully understood when or why celiac disease occurs. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) has similar symptoms to celiac disease, but the reaction to gluten is thought to be less severe, often not causing the same level of intestinal damage. Those kiddos with NCGS will likely still have the unpleasant tummy symptoms including gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea when they eat foods with gluten.

3) What should you do if you suspect your child has celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, & how can you support your child's gluten-free lifestyle?

If celiac disease or NCGS is suspected, take your child to get tested by their pediatrician before putting them on a gluten-free diet. Once the gluten has been eliminated for a period of time, their intestines will start to heal, leading to a false-negative result. So, keep them enjoying their favorite pasta, crackers, and pizza leading up to seeing their doctor and undergoing testing.

For those with celiac disease, lifelong elimination of gluten from the diet is the only known treatment. Kids may feel left out, frustrated, and have difficulty adhering to this lifestyle, making birthday parties, sleepovers, and school lunch time extra complicated. Filling out a 504 plan with the school will make teachers and caregivers aware of this very important dietary restriction and can offer parents and students support. For a new diagnosis or kids who are struggling, a school psychologist or social worker can provide some emotional help.

4) Which nutrients should be prioritized if a child is on a gluten-free diet?

Gluten-free diets should be well-planned, otherwise they may lead to inadequate intakes of B vitamins, folate, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D, and calcium. Some health complications when these nutrients are not repleted may include, anemia, fatigue, compromised bone health, and muscle weakness. Unless there is a medical need to follow a gluten-free diet, providing kids with an all-inclusive diet can ensure that they are meeting all their nutritional needs.

For kiddos who must be on a gluten-free diet, supplementing with Renzo’s Picky Eater Multi can fill in those nutritional gaps.

Renzo's Vitamins provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice.

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