Do bread and other grain products tie your tummy in knots?

By Rosie Schwartz, RD on March 27, 2012
Gluten, a protein found in an assortment of grains, has become a dietary villain for many people lately. While avoiding gluten is indeed warranted for some individuals – those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance – for the majority of the population, it’s unnecessary and needlessly leads to the elimination of a host of nutritious eats such as whole grain breads and cereals. 

Contrary to popular thinking, gluten does not cause inflammation or weight gain for the average person. But cutting out refined grain products – which likely contain gluten, such as breads, snack foods and baked goods – can go hand in hand with weight loss and may be partially responsible for the thinking that gluten-free eating is a smart waist management strategy. 

Children with symptoms of gluten intolerance or celiac disease should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. In addition, children who are first degree relatives of someone with confirmed celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, Williams syndrome, selective IgA deficiency or auto immune thyroiditis should also be screened, even if they don’t have gastrointestinal symptoms. 

Eliminating gluten from one’s diet before testing can lead to a false negative result, because the preliminary tests measure antibodies produced following gluten consumption. If gluten has been eliminated, antibodies simply aren’t produced. Instead, eating gluten-containing foods for a month prior to testing will yield more accurate results. With a precise diagnosis, you’re more likely to get rid of all the hidden sources of gluten. 

For those with celiac disease, gluten can cause a range of health problems. Untreated, the condition can lead to short stature in children as well as gastrointestinal symptoms and nutrient deficiencies because their bodies don’t absorb nutrients well. Over the long term, even trace amounts of gluten in people with celiac disease can increase risk of certain cancers such as lymphoma. 

Cutting out gluten is easier than before as there is a growing availability of nutritious glutenfree products in grocery stores. Products made with gluten-free grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, whole grain cornmeal and buckwheat are now readily available. So, too, is an increasing variety of gluten-free junk food, offering little in the way of nutrition. But they are a super option if you’re looking for a treat for your gluten-sensitive youngster. 

Celiac disease vs gluten intolerance 

  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the proteins in gluten cause your immune system to produce antibodies. Over time, these antibodies wear down the lining of the intestines preventing proper food digestion. For many years, celiac disease was thought to affect only one in 3,000 people. But it’s now known to be more like one in 133 in the general population. 
  • Non-celiac gluten intolerance occurs when testing for celiac disease comes up negative, but digestive difficulties improve when gluten is removed from the diet. 

Sleuthing out gluten

  • Barley, rye, spelt and wheat all contain gluten. 
  • Gluten can be hidden in a wide assortment of products from salad dressings and seasoning mixes to soups and soy sauce. Ingredient lists may also contain hidden sources of gluten in the form of food starch, emulsifiers and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Check labels on processed foods. 
  • As of August 2012, sorting through food products for gluten will become a simpler task. Canada’s new food labelling laws will require gluten to be listed on ingredient lists. 

Symptoms of gluten intolerance or celiac disease include: 

  • persistent diarrhea 
  • poor weight gain 
  • weight loss or failure to thrive 
  • recurrent gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain, lack of appetite, constipation and vomiting.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2012.

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