Gluten-Free Diets: Tips for How to Support Your Child

By Laura Clapper, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Many people assume that since gluten can have such strong negative effects on some of us, that it would be safer if we all just avoided gluten. Wrong.

Gluten-free foods may be safe to eat, but they often come with a cost. Many gluten-free foods and snacks are higher in salt, fat and calories. Also, few gluten-free products are enriched with the essential vitamins and minerals that wheat-containing products contain. This means if you’re on a gluten-free diet not managed by a registered dietitian, you could be missing out on essential nutrients your body needs. At CHOC, our team of pediatric gastroenterologists work in tandem with registered dietitians to care for children who require a gluten-free diet.

Who needs to eliminate gluten from their diet?

Gluten-free diets are essential for anyone who has been diagnosed with celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Children diagnosed with a wheat allergy are hypersensitive to wheat proteins, but generally can tolerate rye and barley. Learn more about celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergies.

The gluten-free diet requires eliminating all foods and ingredients containing gluten. Here’s an easy checklist of foods and ingredients to avoid when removing gluten from your diet:

  1. Wheat (legally required to be declared on food labels)
    • Breads, baked goods
    • Soups
    • Pastas
    • Cereals
    • Sauces, roux
  2. Rye
    • Rye bread
    • Cereals
  3. Barley
    • Malt (malted flour, malted milkshakes, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavorings, malt vinegar)
    • Soups
    • Cereals, snack bars
    • Brewer’s yeast (commonly used not only in beer but also in breadmaking)

Most people would know not to offer, say a traditional bagel or piece of toast to a child on a gluten-free diet. But parents and caregivers should be aware of the many hidden sources of gluten.

Hidden sources of gluten:

  • Broths
  • Chili sauce, soy sauce, salad dressings and marinades
  • Herbal supplements and teas
  • Deli meats
  • Play-dough
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements

Another important factor in adhering to a strict gluten-free diet is avoiding cross contamination.

Tips for avoiding cross-contamination in a gluten-free diet:

  • Use separate utensils, cutting boards, toaster, colanders and fryers
  • Store gluten-free items above gluten-containing products on shelves
  • Use a color-coded system so everyone in your home can easily identify gluten-containing and gluten-free products and ingredients
  • Use separate condiment jars, squeeze bottles and no double-dipping
  • Avoid bulk bins at a grocery store or farmers market, since utensils can be contaminated
  • Use caution with salad bars because toppings can easily be mixed

Another way to support your child with their gluten-free diet is to encourage them to eat naturally gluten-free foods such as vegetables, fruits, dairy, whole grains and legumes. Gluten-free grains and seeds include: brown rice, corn, gluten-free oats, popcorn, and quinoa. Gluten-free beans and legumes include: black/garbanzo/lima/pinto/kidney beans, edamame, lentils and peas.

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