A gluten-free diet (GFD) could be damaging to the health of children who do not suffer from celiac disease, a newly-published study shows. The research, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, argues that GFD might expose children who are healthy to an increased risk of obesity and malnutrition, including deficiencies of vitamin B, iron, and several other nutrients.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that gives people sensitivity to gluten and which – if left untreated – can damage the small intestine and cause more severe health damage. According to the study, worldwide, 1 in 100 people are gluten intolerant. However, many healthy adults and increasingly children are adopting a gluten-free diet in the hope their health will improve. The food industry has responded to this by putting on the market many products that, while gluten-free, contain high percentages of sugar, fat and carbohydrates and, being highly-processed, lack in minerals and vitamins.
That is why, researchers and dietitians warn, children who are healthy and do not suffer from gluten intolerance should not be put on a GFD diet, as it might be damaging to their health. Not only does GFD not help with preventing celiac disease, the recent study shows, it can also predispose healthy children to obesity, vitamin deficiencies, and even diabetes.
Reportedly, most Americans who do not suffer from celiac disease adopt the GDF with their best intentions in mind. However, currently there is a lack of awareness on the part of many as to the real benefits and pitfalls of adopting a gluten-free diet. In fact, in a 2015 survey, when questioned about the reason behind adopting the GFD, most respondents (35%) answered they had “no reason” at all that could justify such a lifestyle change. A large part of respondents (26%) said they were motivated to go on the GFD due to it being a “healthier option”. But, surprisingly, the least common answer was “I have a gluten sensitivity”.
The health benefits of following a gluten-free diet for people diagnosed with celiac disease can be tremendous. As testified by the tennis player and current ATP world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, removing all foods containing gluten from his diet helped him become a better athlete and increased his performance on the court. However, the recently unveiled study should serve as a warning that one should not simply follow trends when making important lifestyle choices and should instead consult with their physician, especially when deciding on the diet to be followed by children.
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