Gluten Intolerance in Children: Everything you need to know
Gluten intolerance is very common in children. As many as 6% of children around the globe suffer from it. Gluten intolerance or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) pertains to people who cannot tolerate gluten in their food and generate an exaggerated immune response when exposed to gluten.
It is different from Celiac disease as gluten-sensitive people do not experience the intestinal damage that occurs in people with celiac disease. Moreover, the latter is not much life-threatening and can be managed if proper care is ensured.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. These grains form common ingredients in bread, biscuits, and bakery products. It is used in almost all processed foods- as the prime ingredient, thickener, or additive.
Children are first exposed to gluten when they are weaned off breast milk. As they begin to eat cereals and biscuits, gluten sensitivity may develop at any point. The signs and symptoms may vary from child to child.
The exact cause and origin of gluten intolerance remain unclear. A report shows that besides gluten; FODMAPs, a group of poorly digested carbohydrates, may trigger the symptoms of gluten intolerance.
Diagnosing Gluten Intolerance in children:
Digestive issues such as bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation can be an indication of Gluten Intolerance.
A wide variety of other symptoms may also be triggered in the other parts of the body or the mind. For instance, brain fog, headaches, migraines, dizziness, rashes, etc.
If a bunch of these symptoms persist over a substantial period, one must consult a pediatrician immediately. In case, the child tests negative for celiac disease, the doctor may conduct tests for similar conditions. These include intestinal parasites, lactose intolerance, wheat allergy, and allergies to food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG).
After an accurate diagnosis, the doctor may recommend gluten elimination from the regular diet and observe changes in symptoms. If the symptoms disappear or improve, small quantities of gluten can be reintroduced into the diet to establish the accuracy of the diagnosis.
Managing Gluten Intolerance in kids:
There is no specific treatment for gluten sensitivity. To deal with it, the only effective course of action is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. This refers to avoiding foods that contain wheat, barley, or rye, and looking out for certified gluten-free processed foods. One also needs to adapt to naturally gluten-free food items such as fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables.
When it comes to kids, it becomes pertinent to seek the advice of a qualified dietitian to help design a healthy and balanced diet for your child. The sudden changes in the diet may lead to nutritional imbalances initially. However, if planned properly, managing gluten intolerance won’t be a difficult task.
Gluten intolerance and child behavior:
Children with gluten sensitivity may experience behavior changes as they begin to follow a cautious diet. They may show irritability, anxiety, aggression, and depression.
Having unique food preferences may make them feel left out during group hangouts and parties. Fact that the only treatment for gluten sensitivity is a strict gluten-free diet, many challenges may come up for a child. It becomes difficult for the child to navigate the diet in social situations.
Here are some tips and tricks to manage gluten intolerance in a child:
- Inform the school staff, and house help about the gluten intolerance of your child. Instruct them to prepare the meals carefully to avoid any cross-contamination.
- Educate all the family members about gluten intolerance. Ask them to be vigilant yet indifferent to the child to avoid any anxiety.
- Make sure that your child carries some gluten-free food for emergencies where getting alternatives are less likely.
- Teach your child to read labels before eating any processed food. The sooner it becomes a habit, the better it will be.
While a gluten-free diet will become an indispensable part of a kid’s lifestyle, it is more important to support the child psychologically.
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