Despite a recent increase in the number of people diagnosed with celiac disease, scientists are puzzled as to why so many people are giving up gluten and even putting their kids on gluten-free diets. And not just puzzled but concerned, particularly in light of a new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Gluten is a general term for a family of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. While avoiding gluten is the main treatment for those with celiac disease—an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten ingestion—eliminating it from the diet without the recommendation of a physician may be doing more harm than good, especially when it comes to children.
Based on their findings, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center believe starting healthy children on a gluten-free diet may actually increase their risk of developing other health problems later in life—from malnutrition and growth problems (due to a lack of essential vitamins and nutrients from the missing food group) to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes in adulthood (owing to the higher fat and sugar content in gluten-free food products).
“Parents should be counseled as to the possible financial, social and nutritional consequences of unnecessary implementation of a gluten-free diet,” said study author Dr. Norelle R. Reilly. She and her team surveyed 1,500 people on gluten-free diets and discovered that less than 8 percent of those surveyed had celiac disease. As for the rest, they believed it would improve digestion, was healthier overall, or they simply had no reason for going gluten free.
Although it is more common today than in the past, only a small percentage of Americans suffer from celiac disease. Experts at the Celiac Disease Foundation recommend first talking to your doctor before eliminating gluten from the diet.