Kids and Gluten Intolerance – Introduction
No one is really sure why celiac disease happens, but it would appear to run in families. A child has up to a 10% chance of getting coeliac disease if someone in the family has it. About 1 in every 130 or so people in the United States has coeliac disease. Around 1 in 5 people in the UK appear to be intolerant to gluten to some degree.
Many people who are gluten intolerant do not know it. If all these people were diagnosed, coeliac disease would be more common than even type 1 diabetes. Fortunately, awareness is increasing about the problem, and there are better ways of testing people for it.
It can be a worrying time if your child is diagnosed with coeliac disease. Kids and gluten intolerance don’t mix well. However, the good news is that if it is caught at a young age, the disease won’t have had time to do any damage. So provided you start to implement a gluten-free diet programme and stick to it, the disease will be a nuisance rather than a serious problem. And the good news is that by checking food labels, etc., your child will be following a healthier lifestyle instead of perhaps a diet of sneaked junk food, and fizzy drinks, etc.
Let’s take a look.
Kids and Gluten Intolerance –Signs and Symptoms
Some common symptoms of celiac disease are diarrhoea, a decreased appetite, stomach ache, bloating, retarded growth, and weight loss. Many children are diagnosed with it when they’re between 6 months and two years old. This is when most get their first taste of food containing gluten.
For some people, the problems start slowly. The symptoms may feel really terrible one week and not so bad the next. Because this happens, some people aren’t diagnosed with coeliac disease until they are much older. The problem is of a chronic nature which means that although symptoms may often come and go for no reason, people who have celiac disease will always have it.
Someone with coeliac disease may feel extremely tired and could become quite irritable. Some sufferers might also have mouth sores and skin rashes too. The challenge is that it is sometimes mistaken for other digestive issues such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or intolerance to dairy products (lactose intolerant).In some cases, a child won’t have any symptoms and then suddenly will start having problems flaring up during a time of stress, such as after an injury.
Kids and Gluten Intolerance – how do you know?
Someone who has a lot of tummy pains, diarrhoea, weight loss, or any other symptoms of coeliac disease should talk to their doctor. It may or may not be gluten intolerance, but a doctor will usually order a blood test to check it out.
If the blood test shows that a person might have celiac disease, the doctor will usually send them to see a gastroenterologist specialising in digestive issues. This specialist may decide to take a biopsy of the small intestine to look at under the microscope. The specialist will give the child some medicine to help them to be comfortable during the procedure.
How Is It Treated?
Coeliac disease is treated by simply not eating foods or drinks containing gluten. This can be quite difficult because gluten is in so many of our foods, but a dietitian can help to carefully adjust someone’s diet to cut out gluten. However, it is important not to start a gluten-free diet unless you are indeed diagnosed as having the disease.
Following a gluten-free diet strictly and rigidly allows the small intestine to heal. However, for someone with coeliac disease, gluten will constantly irritate the intestines and, if they attempt to go back to normal everyday foods, the diarrhoea, stomach pains etc., will return.
If your child is diagnosed with coeliac disease, knowing what foods contain gluten can be challenging. You may not remember tall of them, but you can keep a list with you, and soon, you will be comfortable knowing which foods are safe to eat.
Here’s a quick test.: Which of these four foods contain gluten?
- White sandwich bread
- fried chicken
If you said all of them, you would be correct. Pizza was of course the easiest choice because you know the crust is bread. But did you know that foods covered in a coating of batter such as fried chicken and some French fries (chips) contain gluten? Off the shelf pasta also contains gluten of course, because it is made from wheat. Fortunately these days, you can make or buy gluten-free pizza crust, make fried chicken with a gluten-free batter, and find gluten-free pasta. In fact, almost all of the foods we eat can be made gluten-free. So your child doesn’t have to feel that they are missing out.
Besides foods that contain gluten, watch out for foodstuff that may have been in contact with gluten. This is known as cross-contamination.
This means that a food doesn’t contain gluten as an ingredient but came into contact with gluten-containing foods. Again, this is most likely to happen at home in your own kitchen, such as breadcrumbs left in the toaster, the butter, or the jam jar.
If your child has coeliac disease, they will need their own toaster, and you should also keep separate spreads and condiments for them to avoid cross-contamination. Some foods are contaminated during processing, so you should do your homework thoroughly and source certified gluten-free foods as parents. Our website will help you.
The simplest and best approach is to read the labels. However, to start you off, here are a few foods to avoid until you can make absolutely sure that they are gluten-free:
- Pot noodles
- Packaged rice mixes
- Processed meats
- canned soups
- Bread and cakes
- Fizzy drinks
There was an Act passed in 2012 that requires the labelling of wheat-free products. However, please note that food labelled wheat-free isn’t necessarily gluten-free, because wheat-free products may still have a small amount of barley and rye grains (which contain gluten) in them.
Kids and Gluten Intolerance –Support Group Assistance
A child who has been diagnosed with coeliac disease does not mean they have to give up all their favourite foods. It simply means adapting their diet so that they can be free of gluten. Numerous different gluten-free products, baking mixes and recipes are available. A support group really is an excellent place for finding out recipes and products that are tried and tested by gluten intolerant people.
The group can help keep you up to date with the latest info, too. As an example, a few years ago it was recommended that distilled vinegar be avoided entirely on sufferers diets. Years later we know that the gluten molecules do not appear in the distillate. This means distilled vinegar is now an ingredient that you can use. That obviously made a big change in the allowed foods that someone with the disease could happily eat.
If you are part of a good, strong support group, you get to hear of these types of changes as they happen. The group is also a great place to get to know other kids with coeliac disease and learn that you’re not alone.
It is also imperative to get your child involved every step of the way, so they can be educated and informed as to why they have different food, why they cant swap snacks at school with other kids, and why they can’t eat at MacDonald’s or KFC, and so on. Kids are smart, and they will adapt very easily by asking them what gluten-free foods they like best and which ones they should avoid.
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