Whether it’s for diagnosed celiac disease or suspected gluten sensitivity, many parents are switching their children to gluten-free diets. Busy parents might feel overwhelmed by the thought of a big dietary overhaul for kids already picky about food (and change in general). But going gluten-free doesn’t have to be scary.
“Parents are afraid to even try it because it sounds like it would be too hard,” said Taylor-Klaus, a parenting coach in Atlanta. “I was one of those parents. I’m not saying it’s not hard. But [Bex] became so much easier to manage that the trade-off was far superior to what I thought it would be.”
The trade-off is even more pronounced for kids with celiac disease, an inability to digest gluten, a protein found in products that contain wheat, barley or rye. It affects about one in 100 people in Europe and North America, according to the National Institutes of Health. The Mayo Clinic estimates that the number of people affected has quadrupled in the past 50 years, though the reason is unclear.
There is no treatment for celiac disease — which can cause bloating, diarrhea and constipation in some patients and mood swings and neurological symptoms in others — but it can be managed by eliminating gluten from your diet.
Here are some suggestions from experts and parents of gluten-free children on how to make the change easier for you and your child.
Consult a doctor
John Snyder, chief of the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at Children’s National Medical Center in the District, said in an e-mail that parents should check with a doctor before changing a child’s diet, to ensure he or she continues to get proper nutrition.
There are many reasons parents consider putting a child on a gluten-free diet, including mood swings, eczema and
autism spectrum disorders
. But if you think your child might have celiac disease or a severe gluten intolerance, it’s important to have him tested before changing his diet.
“Testing for celiac disease is only effective if the child is on a diet which contains gluten,” Snyder said.
Be a detective
Just because a label or menu says something is gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s safe for celiacs, said Jerry Malitz, president of the D.C. Metro Celiac Organization.
In addition to reading the ingredients, parents need to see how the food is prepared and stored. French fries might be labeled as gluten-free on a menu, Malitz said, because they are made with potatoes. But if they are cooked in a fryer that has been used for onion rings or fried shrimp that are coated in flour, there can be cross-contamination.