An old TV commercial advised that if we want to perform our best, we better eat our Wheaties. These days, a whole lot of people are cutting back on their family’s wheat eating, but the reasons are not well understood, at best.
The culprit behind this wheat avoidance is gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. While generally nutritious for most of us, gluten can cause an inflammatory intestinal condition, called celiac, among 1 percent of the population.
The side effects of celiac are so distressing to those who suffer it that a gluten-free industry of foods and other products has mushroomed around it. The U.S. market for these products is estimated at $1.77 billion, according to Statista. By 2020, it is expected to near $24 billion.
Grains of Reality
Yet many people still do not understand much about gluten. Some worry that their children should avoid it, for example, but are not fully sure why. Reports that gluten affects children with autism have helped support these beliefs, though research is inconclusive.
However, eliminating an entire food group has its ramifications. A gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals and fiber. Further complicating matters is that a wheat-free diet is not necessarily gluten free.
What to do? First, let’s separate celiac from gluten sensitivity.
Celiac, or Sensitive
While celiac affects only a small percentage of people, a greater percentage of the population suffers from gluten sensitivity. Here’s how to know the difference.
Celiac is an abnormal immune response that causes the body to attack the lining of the small intestine when gluten is consumed. This damage limits the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, while causing severe bloating, gas pain and the need to go to the bathroom a lot.
Untreated, celiac can lead to more acute health problems including anemia, osteoporosis, infertility, severe skin rash and possibly intestinal cancers.
Serious stuff, then.
Brain Fog? You’re Just Being Sensitive
Those who suffer from gluten sensitivity have similar but milder side effects including gas and bloating. For kids, the symptoms may also include:
- Brain fog: Often feeling tired and/or forgetful. Kids may have trouble focusing or completing tasks.
- Headaches: It’s not common for kids to have chronic headaches, so if your child does, go to the doctor.
- Rashes and joint pain: Itchy patches, acne, joint pain and tingling in the extremities all indicate gluten sensitivity.
Better Eating For Wee Ones
If your child shows any of these symptoms, take her to the doctor to get tested as soon as you can. We’re not trying to get all scary on you, but nutrition is not a guessing game, it is essential to a good life. In the interim avoid breads, pastas, cereals, crackers and many processed foods.
If your child is gluten-sensitive or suffers from celiac, be prepared to compensate nutritionally. The American Dietetic Association reports that gluten-free products can be low in B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and other nutrients. So you’ll want to load up on a diet high in natural nutrients and proteins:
- Fresh vegetables and fruits – broccoli, dark leafy greens and carrots are especially nutritious
- Unprocessed rice, nuts, seeds and beans
- Fresh eggs
- Lean meats, fish and poultry (not breaded or marinated)
- Most dairy products
If your kids like dips with their veggies, be sure to read the label. This is why all-natural Vegy Vida does not include gluten – we want all kids to be able to love veggies for life, without reservations.
After all, we might not all be better if we eat our Wheaties, but we can still strive to eat so we can be our best.