Walk into any grocery store and you are likely to see an entire aisle dedicated to gluten-free products. Your friends might be on the gluten-free (GF) diet, your mom, maybe your third cousin Sally who seems to have more energy than ever. But, when it comes to your children gluten-free may not be the healthiest option unless they have been diagnosed with Celiac disease or have a gluten sensitivity.
A new study published in Pediatrics, examined the nutritional quality of gluten-free products that were specifically marketed toward children. While they found that the gluten-free products did have lower levels of sodium, fat and saturated fat, they also found the products contained less protein and slightly more sugar than products that contained gluten.
What does this mean? The study suggests that gluten-free kids products are not superior to regular food products that are geared toward children, in fact, they may be of a greater concern because of their higher sugar content.
The findings revealed that around 80% of child-targeted gluten-free products contained high levels of sugar. The study also showed that 88% of the packaged GF foods they looked at for children could be classified as being "unhealthy". Which leaves many parents back at square one when it comes to purchasing healthy packaged foods. The options are still limited. The authors of this paper spent time studying more that 300 children's food products. These were products with kid-friendly graphics that one may pick up for a child on a typical grocery run and they made sure to exclude items like candy, potato chips, soda and snacks that most parents would consider "junk food".
Some parents may opt for GF products because they think it's a healthier choice for their kids. Companies have picked up on this trend and are now specifically marketing GF products to be more child-friendly. It's a big money maker for them. According to Transparency Market Research, the gluten-free food product market is expected to make $4.89 billion dollars by 2021.This particular study is not the first of it's kind. Similar studies have been done yielding similar results. These findings are also important because not only do they lift the curtain on the marketing of GF products but the results mean families who have children with GF sensitivity have limited nutritious options in the marketplace.Parents who have children with a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity should carefully read the product labels before making their purchase. Celiac disease is an inherited immune reaction triggered by gluten (which is a protein found in wheat, rye, barely and other grains). Both adults and children can be affected by this.
If you think you child might have a gluten intolerance, talk to your pediatrician first to come up with a diet plan that is nutritionally sound for your child.