Usually found in barley, rye and wheat, gluten is an almost ubiquitous protein that’s come under fire recently, being blamed for everything from constipation to failure to thrive. As gluten-free products become more common and gluten-free diets for kids and adults alike rise in popularity, it’s important for nannies and childcare providers to have a basic understanding of why some parents opt to remove it from their kids’ diets, and the best ways to avoid foods containing gluten.
Approximately one in every 133 people suffers from celiac disease, which causes an immune system reaction when those who have the condition consume foods containing gluten. As the body negatively reacts to the protein, the villi that help the body absorb nutrients and vitamins are damaged, manifesting through a variety of symptoms. In children, one of the most common and worrying side effects is a failure to thrive, as the absence of vital nutrients will cause youngsters to lose weight and, in some cases, to develop anemia. A child’s chances of developing celiac disease are between 5% and 10% higher if a family member also suffers from the condition, as there seems to be a strong hereditary link. As a result, nannies may find that more than one of their charges within a particular family has celiac disease. The most common and effective treatment for celiac disease is to avoid any and all food products containing gluten, so it’s important that nannies working for families with celiac disease sufferers understand the best methods for managing a gluten-free diet.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
When kids exhibit symptoms of gluten intolerance, but test negative for celiac disease, there’s a possibility that they’re suffering from non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The condition is still relatively new to researchers, and comparatively little information about it exists, but there are some things that nannies should keep in mind when caring for a child with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The most common symptoms include those that mimic irritable bowel syndrome, what’s described as a “foggy mind,” fatigue and headaches. According to researchers at Celiac Central, those who suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity struggle with unfavorable physical responses to gluten, but are not subject to the same intestinal damage that gluten causes those with celiac disease.
While it’s becoming more and more common for parents of children suffering from ADHD to supplement treatment with a switch to a gluten-free diet, the actual science surrounding the connection between symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a diet that contains gluten can be a bit misleading. The anecdotal evidence supporting these claims stems from the fact that children who have been diagnosed with both celiac disease and ADHD seem to exhibit fewer symptoms of ADHD when placed on a gluten-free diet. A November 2006 study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders showed a correlation between an increased likelihood of ADHD symptoms in those suffering from celiac disease, and that those patients did improve after eliminating gluten from their diet. Removing gluten from the diet of non-intolerant ADHD sufferers, however, may not have the same results.
The Autism Spectrum
While some parents of children on the autism spectrum swear by a gluten-free diet in terms of symptom reduction and increased socialization, the evidence supporting the link between a gluten and casein-free diet and improvements in autistic children’s condition is purely anecdotal. Very little research has been conducted on the subject, leaving most of the prevailing wisdom soundly in the realm of theory. Provided that an autistic charge is receiving the vitamins, minerals and fiber he needs, it’s best for childcare providers to comply with an employer’s insistence on a gluten-free diet for their autistic child, even if the scientific link between the condition and a gluten-rich diet is tenuous.
Lifestyle and Dietary Choices
Profits from the sale of gluten-free foods are up 33% since 2009, at an estimated 6.3 billion dollars annually. Because only 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease, the numbers indicate that the vast majority of gluten-free foods buyers have no medically sound reason for cutting the protein out of their diet. Working for a family that’s voluntarily eliminated gluten from their collective diets will require that childcare providers spend a bit of extra time ensuring that kids’ fiber and vitamin requirements are met.
Misconceptions and Myths
Because so many people instinctively associate the “gluten-free” label with the removal of something that’s inherently unhealthy, the idea that gluten is a nutritional no-no has begun to take hold. While nannies and childcare providers are in no position to challenge their employers on the subject, it is important to note that a “gluten-free” label does not automatically make a food item healthy. Many processed gluten-free products are just as high in sugar and lacking in fiber as their mainstream counterparts, which makes this misconception potentially dangerous.