Fort Worth, Texas,
14:27 PM

Are Gluten Free Foods Better For My Child?

The Doc Smitty answers 3 key questions to determine if your kid should be gluten-free

Families asking questions about going gluten free are a more frequent occurrence in my office lately.

So, are gluten free foods better for your child?

The answer is…

Complicated. It depends on your child.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. The protein works as a “glue” to hold the foods together. It is often found in foods that might be unexpected or surprising.

Are gluten-free kid’s foods healthier for my child with celiac disease?

Yes. Definitely, absolutely yes.

Celiac disease is a genetic condition in which people have a severe auto-immune reaction to gluten that leads to damage of the small intestine. It can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are wide and varied but often include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, stool changes and behavioral changes. Diagnosis can be tricky but involves lab testing and usually a visit with a gastroenterologist.

Avoidance of gluten is the primary treatment for children with celiac disease.

Are gluten-free kid’s foods healthier for my child with gluten intolerance (non-celiac)?

First of all, you have be very careful to determine if there is something to this. Because many of the proposed symptoms of gluten intolerance are vague and not specific (there are many doctors who question if it is a true condition). Whatever you believe, it can be easy to attribute normal child stuff to a sensitivity to foods.

Because of this, I highly recommend a long conversation with a pediatric, GI doctor or allergist before making the changes to your diet. Studies have shown that it is more difficult to obtain adequate calories and nutrition for kids on gluten free diets. Thus, it’s not without risk to decide to eliminate gluten from your child’s diet.

Are gluten-free kid’s foods healthier for my healthy child?

The answer to this is categorically no. In fact, they could be less healthy.

A recent study compared food for kids based on whether those foods were advertised as gluten free or not. The results might surprise you.

Gluten free supermarket foods were found to be nutritionally similar to regular child-targeted foods. One change was that 80 percent of gluten free kid foods had higher sugar content than non gluten free kid foods. Previous studies have shown that gluten free products have similar total calories but less protein and fiber.

Bottom line, if your child has a medical need, gluten free foods are important. Otherwise I’d save my money and skip them.

Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.

Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician in Trophy Club  and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Smith is an experienced keynote speaker for a variety of topics including pediatric/parenting topics, healthcare social media and physician leadership. If you are interested in having Dr. Smith present to your conference or meeting, please contact him at

He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” open now. Click to learn more. To make an appointment, call 817-347-8100.


Comments 1 - 1 (1)
Thank you for your message. It will be posted after approval.
Doc Smo, Dr. Paul Smolen
I totally agree Doc Smitty. I think families need to also know that the incidence of spina bifida has been rising recently and this is thought to be secondary to pregnant mothers avoiding gluten and wheat products. It turns out that many of gluten containing foods are fortified with folic acid, an essential nutrient known to reduce the chance of having a baby with a open neural tube defect. Coincidence or causal? Time will tell but one thing we know is that pregnant moms need folic acid from the get go.