Growing public health concerns in the form of food intolerances and allergies are leading to a heavy shift in the consumer’s demand for gluten-free products. As mentioned by Statista, the market for gluten-free food is sky-rocketing. The market is projected to be valued at 7.59 billion U.S. dollars, by 2020. Conventional stores were estimated to be the most important distribution channel for gluten-free products in 2015 with sales amounting to about 2.79 billion U.S. dollars. And according to industry experts, the United States was the flagship market in terms of gluten-free food retail sales in 2014.

The growing awareness of the celiac disease and other conditions caused by gluten has encouraged parents to alter the diet of the family into a gluten-free one. Parents looking to stock up on gluten-free products are spoilt for choices with special sections dedicated to them. Find out how to alter your child’s diet into a gluten-free one without restricting the natural nutritional requirement as per their age and development. 

Gluten-Free Diet

The protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other derivative grains is known as gluten, usually present in bread, cakes, pasta, cereals, and biscuits. A gluten-free diet eliminates all products that contain these ingredients. A diet healthily replacing gluten means including vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, meats, legumes, and certain dairy products. These foods are naturally free of gluten which are safe and nutritious for people with gluten allergy. Kids are prone to celiac disease and can stay healthy by alternating gluten foods with gluten-free options. Eating gluten-free will help children with celiac disease to absorb minerals and vitamins needed for their growth and development. 

According to What To Expect, “When kids or adults with celiac disease eat foods with gluten, the immune system mistakenly treats the gluten as a foreign invader and reacts by attacking the lining of the small intestine. When the small intestine is damaged, it loses the ability to absorb certain nutrients from food. Recent research has shown that there doesn’t seem to be any difference in when a child first eats gluten and her chances of developing the condition, so experts say it’s best to give kids gluten around the time you first feed them solids.”

Shopping for Gluten-Free Food

Start your grocery shopping with items that are 100% gluten-free naturally. Plan your meals according to these ingredients and replace the gluten products with their alternatives. Grains like quinoa, millet, and amaranth are gluten-free, which has a high protein and fiber content. They are also rich in micronutrients like potassium, iron, zinc, copper, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. Consult your doctor if your experimenting with oats, as they contain the same protein structure as gluten, called avenin. 

Gluten is present in most processed and ready-made foods like soups, sauces, seasonings, flavoring, and other thickening agents. The additives added in food products to increase the shelf life are rich in gluten. So carefully read the labels to make a gluten-free purchase. 

Boosting the Nutritional Value of Food

Most Gluten-free grains are not fortified leading to mineral and vitamin deficiencies among children who follow a gluten-free diet. The deficiencies caused as a result of this include calcium, vitamin B12, zinc, magnesium, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), folic acid and iron. Children should consume natural foods that are rich sources of these minerals and vitamins like fruits and vegetables for Vitamin A, seafood and diary for Vitamin D, protein-rich foods (avocado, sunflower seeds, almonds, kiwi, leafy vegetables) for Vitamin E, etc. Consult your dietician before changing your child’s diet plan, to understand their nutritional requirements according to their body. 

gluten free food for kids

Side-Effects of Gluten-Free Food

The most common side effect of following a gluten-free diet is constipation. Children need 20-30 grams of fiber each day depending on their age. The lack of fiber content in gluten-free substitutes like potato flour, rice, tapioca or corn may not be enough for your growing child. So, choose high fiber alternatives for gluten in the form of brown rice, quinoa, beans, chickpea, millet, and amaranth. 

Another loophole lies in the manufactured goods you purchase from the market. These products are either frequently altered in terms of ingredients and production techniques or are not 100% gluten-free. Hence if you are switching to a gluten-free diet, try to alternate with home-made options instead of ready-made options. 

Is Gluten-Free Food Healthy for Children

Children who have food allergies or conditions like celiac disease are required to stick to a gluten-free diet as it can cause a lot of damage. But for the rest gluten is not harmful or unhealthy. And eliminating gluten from your child’s diet won’t make any difference like alleviated energy levels or boost their growth. A gluten-free diet will make it difficult for children to get key nutrients like vitamin B, calcium, folate and iron. So, help your child choose from a wide variety of healthy and unprocessed foods to provide the nutrients without restricting their consumption. Eat wise, stay healthy!