Is gluten-free right for your child?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Nearly 30% of Americans try to avoid gluten, and some stores have entire sections dedicated to gluten-free products. But are gluten-free products healthy for children?

A recent study revealed that products labeled gluten-free are not nutritionally better compared to “regular” children’s foods. Approximately 88% of packaged gluten-free foods can be classified as poor nutritional quality because of high levels of sugar, sodium or fat.

Since whole grains are important for children, removing all gluten-containing products leaves a big hole in their diets. If there is no medical reason to eliminate gluten from your child’s diet, it is not recommended.

As pediatricians, we recommend serving your child a variety of foods from the five major food groups: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein and dairy. Each food group supplies important nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.

If your child suffers from celiac disease or has gluten intolerance, here are some tips to make following a gluten-free diet a little easier:

  • Shop the perimeter of your grocery store. You’ll find fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy, eggs and legumes that are naturally 100% gluten free.
  • Experiment with naturally gluten-free grains. These include millet, amaranth and quinoa.
  • Avoid pre-packaged and ready-made items. These often contain additives to increase shelf life that may contain gluten.
  • Consider a multivitamin. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are more common in children following a gluten-free diet.

Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns. We want the best for you and your child, and we’re always happy to chat with you.

Dr. Melody Miller is a pediatrician with Pediatric Associates–Greer. Learn more about Pediatric Associates–Greer or find another Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Upstate pediatrician near your work or home at ghschildrens.org/pediatricians. You also can call 1-844-447-3627 for help connecting with a pediatrician.

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