Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley.

Of the gluten-containing grains, wheat is by far the most commonly consumed. The two main proteins in gluten are glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is responsible for most of the negative health effects. When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency. This glue-like property makes the dough elastic, and gives bread the ability to rise when baked. It also provides a chewy, satisfying texture. Interestingly, the name glu-ten is derived from this glue-like property of wet dough.

Celiac disease is one of the most common genetic disorders, affecting 1 percent of people worldwide. Celiac disease is when gluten is consumed it stimulates that person’s immune system to attack the small intestine and inhibit the absorption of important nutrients. It can also cause a variety of other symptoms. Celiac disease is a real disease.

However, if you don’t have Celiac disease, is eating gluten-free food healthier? Dr. C. Elliot in the journal “Pediatrics” reported on gluten-free foods marketed to children. This study upsets the idea that gluten-free foods equals healthy foods. It has been — and is an excellent — sales tool.

As noted above, children with Celiac disease need to avoid gluten. Dr. Elliott looked at 374 food products marketed for children. She excluded “junk food” like candy and potato chips. About 18 percent of the products claimed to be gluten-free.

Data showed 88 percent of the gluten-free products were classified as unhealthy. While the gluten-free products were lower in sodium, total fat and saturated fat, they had less protein and more calories from sugar. Seventy-nine percent had high sugar levels.

There is no healthy benefit to gluten-free products unless your child has gluten intolerance and/or sensitivity. Parents of children with gluten problems need to assess product labels to carefully see if they are nutritious.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

(1) comment

Randy Chapman

I bet 90% of those that demand gluten-free products don't know why it should be avoided by certain folks, or what gluten even is.

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