Dietary Guidelines for Gluten Free Diet for Children with Celiac Disease

By Malvika Fulwani|5 - 6 mins read| June 12, 2024

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting approximately 1% of children worldwide. 

It is triggered by ingesting gluten, wheat, barley, and rye protein. For children with celiac disease, consuming gluten damages the small intestine, preventing the absorption of essential nutrients. The only effective treatment is a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet.

This article provides a detailed guide on managing a gluten-free diet for children with celiac disease.

Understanding Celiac Disease in Children

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Children with celiac disease may exhibit a range of symptoms, including chronic diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating, and failure to thrive. Some may also experience non-gastrointestinal symptoms such as anaemia, fatigue, and irritability. Diagnosis involves a combination of serological tests for specific antibodies and a confirmatory intestinal biopsy.

The Importance of Early Detection

Early detection of celiac disease is crucial for preventing long-term complications such as growth retardation, osteoporosis, and increased risk of other autoimmune disorders. Research indicates that a gluten-free diet can significantly improve symptoms and quality of life for children diagnosed with celiac disease.

The Gluten-Free Diet: Basics and Challenges

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. It provides elasticity to dough, allowing it to rise and maintain its shape. For individuals with celiac disease, even small amounts of gluten can cause significant health issues.

Identifying Gluten-Containing Foods

Common foods containing gluten include:

  • Bread, pasta, and cereals
  • Baked goods such as cakes, cookies, and pastries
  • Processed foods with additives like malt and modified food starch

Hidden Sources of Gluten

Gluten can also be found in unexpected places, including:

  • Sauces and gravies
  • Soups and broths
  • Some candies and snack foods
  • Certain medications and supplements

Implementing a Gluten-Free Diet

Reading Labels

Learning to read food labels is essential. Ingredients to avoid include wheat, barley, rye, malt, and brewer’s yeast. Many products now carry a “gluten-free” label, but it’s still important to verify by checking the ingredient list.

Gluten-Free Alternatives

The market for gluten-free products has expanded significantly, offering alternatives such as:

  • Gluten-free flours (rice, almond, coconut, and sorghum flour)
  • Gluten-free pasta (made from corn, quinoa, or rice)
  • Gluten-free bread and baked goods

Cross-Contamination

Preventing cross-contamination is vital. This involves:

  • Using separate cooking utensils, cutting boards, and appliances
  • Cleaning surfaces thoroughly before preparing gluten-free meals
  • Educating family members and caregivers about the importance of avoiding cross-contamination

Nutritional Considerations

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10058476/

The above chart gives a list of gluten-free and gluten-containing foods.

When people switch to a gluten-free diet (GFD), they often consume fewer complex carbohydrates and protein while increasing their fats and simple carbohydrates intake. This shift can lead to weight gain despite not eating more food.

Complex carbohydrates in whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables offer more nutrients than simple carbohydrates. They are rich in soluble and insoluble fibre, which helps with digestion and makes you feel full. Moreover, they can help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels. However, many gluten-free foods lack these complex carbohydrates and are made with flour and starches that are low in fibre and high in sugar. This can result in a diet that’s high in carbohydrates but needs more nutritional value.

When following a gluten-free diet, it’s essential to incorporate nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to maintain a balanced diet and avoid unwanted weight gain.

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10058476/

The above chart summarises the macronutrient and micronutrient imbalances associated with a GFD.

In individuals with active celiac disease (CeD), malabsorption of nutrients is common, leading to deficiencies in essential micronutrients such as iron, vitamin B12, and folate. Additionally, fat malabsorption can result in deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. However, even after adopting a gluten-free diet (GFD), micronutrient deficiencies persist, suggesting that factors beyond malabsorption contribute to these deficiencies.

The limited selection of foods and the lack of fortification in gluten-free products contribute to micronutrient deficiencies associated with GFDs. For example, gluten-free products are often deficient in folate and iron compared to their gluten-containing counterparts. Consequently, individuals following a GFD may need adequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals solely from their diet.

Clinicians may recommend nutritional supplementation based on blood levels of vitamins and minerals to address these deficiencies. However, it’s essential to note that unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish provide essential dietary minerals and vitamins. Therefore, individuals with CeD or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGWS) may benefit from gluten-free diets based on naturally gluten-free foods to ensure adequate micronutrient intake.

Therefore, it’s very important to monitor the following essential nutrients:

  • Iron: Found in lean meats, beans, and fortified gluten-free cereals
  • Calcium and Vitamin D: Important for bone health, found in dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods
  • Fiber: Ensure adequate intake through fruits, vegetables, nuts, and gluten-free whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat

Psychological and Social Aspects

Coping with Diagnosis

A celiac disease diagnosis can be challenging for children and their families. It is crucial to provide emotional support and education to help them adjust. Support groups and counselling can be beneficial.

Social Situations

Navigating social situations such as school, parties, and dining out can be difficult. Strategies include:

  • Packing gluten-free snacks and meals
  • Communicating with teachers and caregivers about the child’s dietary needs
  • Researching restaurants that offer gluten-free options

Conclusion

Managing celiac disease in children requires a comprehensive approach that includes strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, nutritional monitoring, and emotional support.

While challenges exist, advancements in food labelling, technology, and ongoing research make it easier for families to manage this condition effectively. Early diagnosis and a proactive approach can ensure that children with celiac disease lead healthy, fulfilling lives.

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About The Author:

Malvika Fulwani

Last Updated: Wed Jun 12 2024

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the above blog/article text are the personal views of the author, and not necessarily reflect the views of The ParentZ. Any omission or errors are the author's and we do not assume any liability or responsibility for them.
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