Written by Gretchen Flanagan, RD

Why are gluten free food products becoming increasingly common in our grocery stores?  Is this just the latest food fad or is gluten a potential dietary villain?

Let’s begin by understanding what gluten is.

Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten commonly is added to bakery products to provide stability (glue) holding leavened bread products in place.  Roughly 1% of adults and children with a genetic predisposition develop a condition called celiac disease.  Celiac disease can lead to serious nutritional and intestinal problems.  For these individuals, gluten causes damage to the intestines responsible for absorbing nutrients potentially impacting growth and development.  For these individuals, maintaining a gluten free diet is essential.

To date, science has not shown that there are other conditions where complete avoidance of gluten is necessary.  Gluten travels through the intestine of most children without causing disease and will never lead to medical problems.  In fact, for growing children, the avoidance of gluten can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies.  Many gluten free foods are highly processed and may not be nutrient fortified to the same degree as common food products.  If you are concerned about your child’s health, please consult with your pediatrician before eliminating gluten.  For the majority of growing children, the optimal diet is composed of fresh foods provided in well balanced meals and snacks.

For more information about celiac disease and other digestive disorders in children, go to http://www.gikids.org.

Gretchen Flanagan, RD, has over 20 years of experience working with families as a pediatric dietitian. She currently works at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford and has a private practice in Menlo Park. She is excited to share her experience and expertise with you! She will be presenting on how to maintain healthy eating habits while juggling daily life on the go.