One of the most challenging allergies for kids and their parents to endure is wheat allergy and gluten intolerance. Wheat and gluten are in many kid-friendly foods, including breads, crackers, cookies, pastas, cereals and candies. Avoiding wheat can be especially difficult in the United States since it is the nation’s predominant grain of choice. But, have no fear! If your child has an allergy to wheat or is intolerant to gluten, there are a lot of foods he can enjoy and plenty of ways for you to help compensate for his food restrictions!
Wheat allergy and gluten intolerance are two different but related issues. When a child has an allergy to wheat, he or she has an allergic reaction to one of the proteins in wheat. Allergic symptoms can range from mild (such as a skin rash or stomach ache) to severe (such as trouble breathing and the narrowing of airways). Kids with wheat allergy may also be allergic to other grains, such as barley, oat, and rye since they all contain similar proteins. A simple blood test can reveal which grains your child is allergic to. Wheat allergy is much more common in children than adults, but fortunately, most wheat-allergic children will outgrow this allergy. The only way to prevent getting the uncomfortable symptoms associated with wheat allergy is to stay away from all foods containing wheat.
Celiac disease is intolerance to gluten, a protein commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley. Celiac Disease, also called Celiac Sprue or Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy, is technically not an allergy, but an autoimmune disorder that can cause inflammation of the small intestine. People with Celiac Disease, or gluten intolerance, may experience diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, failure to gain weight, and poor nutrient absorption when he or she eats a food that contains gluten. Read more about Celiac Disease here.
In addition to wheat, barley and rye, gluten can also be found in oats due to cross contact since many brands of oats are processed on equipment that is shared with wheat, barley and rye. Some brands of oats are safe from cross-contamination, so careful label reading is very important for parents of children with gluten intolerance.
If you are trying to help your child avoid wheat and/or gluten, you must become a meticulous label-reader! Some sources of wheat proteins are obvious, such as bread, but all wheat proteins — and gluten in particular — may be used in a number of prepared and processed foods. Foods and products that MAY contain wheat proteins include:
If you or your child is allergic to wheat or is gluten intolerant, try the following gluten and wheat free substitutions:
Be sure to remember these tips when raising a child with food allergies:
Jana Greene Hand is a Registered Dietitian specializing in maternal and pediatric nutrition. She holds her Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from Cal State LA and wrote her Master’s thesis on prenatal nutrition and managing gestational weight gain. Jana has a private practice in West Hills, CA where she counsels her pediatric and adult clients about weight management, food allergies, and other medical nutrition therapies. Jana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.