Did you know that 1 in 133 people are diagnosed with celiac disease? Or that between 5% and 10% of all people suffer from a gluten sensitivity of some kind? Both of these are four times more common than they were in the 1950s. As little as one year ago, 30% of the U.S. population was estimated to be carrying the genes necessary for celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Do you have a child who’s been diagnosed with either a gluten intolerance or celiac disease? Don’t let it scare you. Yes, you’ll have to make sure your child sticks to diet and lifestyle changes, and yes, it’s a great idea for you to make those changes, too. You’ll have to go through the food in your house and look for hidden sources of gluten, and you’ll have to keep a close eye on what your child eats when he or she is away from home.
You’re likely confused, exasperated, and wondering how you’ll ever understand all of this stuff and make all of these changes. The good news is that you’re not alone. In the U.S., 1 in 100 children have celiac disease or some form of gluten intolerance, so there are probably parents out there just like you who are wondering where to begin.
There’s more good news! We’re here to help you through this new change. We’ve put together a guide for parents of newly diagnosed gluten intolerant or celiac children that answer some of the most basic questions, and we hope you’ll find it to be a great resource for just starting out in the gluten-free journey.
1.) What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by your child’s intake of gluten. When foods containing gluten are eaten, your child’s immune system attacks the small intestine, which damages the intestinal lining and makes it harder for your child to get the nutrients he or she needs.
2.) What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein complex that is normally found in wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and triticale. Many flours are made from these grains, and those flours are used to make many common foods, such as bread, pasta, cereal, and baked goods. Gluten is what gives those foods their structure.
3.) What does gluten do to my child’s intestine?
The inside of the small intestine is covered with villi, which absorb nutrients from food and help get them into your bloodstream and to the rest of your child’s body. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance damage these villi by flattening and inflaming them, so fewer nutrients are absorbed from food. This leads to nutrient deficiencies and the need for vitamin supplements.
The following illustration from Boston Children’s Hospital shows how healthy villi look (photo on the left), and how celiac and gluten-damaged villi look (photo on the right).
4.) Will my child’s small intestine heal?
It can heal if your child follows a 100% gluten-free diet. There are also supplements that can aid in the healing, too!
5.) What are the symptoms of gluten intolerance and celiac disease?
Some of the most common (and noticeable) symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss, stomach pain, and delayed growth. In older children, other symptoms may include delayed puberty and delayed periods in girls. It’s important to note, however, that some children who suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance don’t display any noticeable symptoms. When this is the case, a diagnosis is sometimes made when a doctor finds your child has low bone density.
6.) What are common sources of gluten?
Because gluten is likely in many of your child’s favorite foods, it’s important that you remove those foods from your diets. Be sure to watch out for grains like wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Wheat has many different forms, so you’ll need to be aware of those, too. Watch out for ingredients like bulgur, semolina, spelt, graham, durum, and kumult–they’re all variants of wheat!
Other bad grains include couscous, farina, bran, panko, orzo, udon, and matzo flour. Anything with wheat in the name (what bran, wheat germ, wheat starch) is clearly a no-no. The same goes for barley (barley malt, barley extract) and rye.
It’s a great idea to make sure your child stays away from the following, unless there’s a specific gluten-free label on the box or package: waffles, pancakes, pretzels, licorice, cake, candy, cookies, salad dressings, soy sauce, bread, crackers, gravy, ice cream cones, and stuffing. Be careful with vegetarian products as well. Many meat substitutes contain gluten, and many people forget to check for it.
This is by no means a full list of ingredients and foods to watch out for in the foods your child eats, but it’s a great start!
7.) Do I need to read ingredient labels on everything?
It’s a fantastic idea to do so! How else will you know if foods contain gluten or not? If foods are certified gluten-free, you’ll see a stamp on the package that says so. Nearly all products today have an allergy statement below the ingredients list on the package. It’s required by the FDA that manufacturers state whether a certain product contains wheat or one of its many forms. If you see “Contains: Wheat,” you’ll know it’s a product you’ll need to pass on.
The FDA rule that requires the allergy statement for wheat doesn’t cover other glutinous grains like barley, rye, and oats, so you’ll also have to look out for those. The best practice is to go through the entire ingredient list and look for bad grains that contain gluten. Never rely on the allergy statement alone, because it won’t tell you about all sources of gluten the product could potentially contain.
8.) Are there hidden sources of gluten I need to be aware of?
Absolutely! Gluten isn’t just found in your child’s favorite foods. The frightening fact about gluten is that it can be in many items and foods you and your child use on a daily basis. A short list includes lip gloss, chapstick, play dough, envelope and stamp adhesive, lunch/deli meats, shampoos and conditioners, many candies, prescription medications, certain supplements, lotions, soups, and even imitation bacon!
Always read ingredient labels! If you see an ingredient that looks questionable, the best course of action is to just avoid that product completely. It’s better to do that than use a product or eat a food you’re uncertain about and risk gluten poisoning.
9.) What can my child actually eat?
Lots of things! Many people don’t realize how many great gluten-free brands are out there on the market, and the good news is that more are becoming available every day. Because the rate of people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease has increased so much over the last fifteen years or so, the number of available products has also increased, as has the number of stores carrying those items.
You’ll easily be able to find a variety of gluten-free breads, cereals, pretzels, snack foods, cookies, granola bars, drinks, and even pizza crusts. Some great brands to keep an eye out for include KIND, Glutino, Amy’s Kitchen, Enjoy Life Foods, Envirokidz, Bumble Bar, LaraBar, Good Greens, and Pamela’s Products.
Some of the most commons foods, including beans, rice, nuts, and corn and rice cereals are all gluten-free. So are fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, and many dairy products. Safe ingredients include arrowroot, tapioca, sorghum, quinoa, corn, flax, rice, buckwheat, and potato flour. You and your child will have plenty to eat when you start your new diet!
10.) What are some easy meal and snack ideas for when my child is away from home?
Children can’t stay home all the time, so if they’ll be away for a day or two, packing meals is never a bad idea! If your child is at home, we’ve got great recommendations for them, too!
- Fruit and yogurt
- Eggs and turkey bacon
- Cream of Rice cereal with fresh fruit
Lunch and Dinner:
- Chili made with turkey or beef and fresh veggies
- Tuna fish on gluten-free bread with apple slices
- Chicken or turkey stir-fry with fresh veggies and steamed brown rice
- Baked apple slices
- Rice cakes or crackers with peanut butter
- Yogurt and fresh fruit with gluten-free granola
Navigating through the world of celiac disease and gluten intolerance doesn’t have to be confusing. There can be a little learning curve, but once you’ve discovered what your child can and cannot eat, this new lifestyle will be a breeze!
Have you recently adopted a new gluten-free lifestyle to help your child do the same? We’d love to hear your stories! Please leave a comment below!