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Do not fear gluten in your child’s food. It is not harmful and prevents celiac disease.

Canadian Medical Care
Those who have children with a considerable age difference may be surprised to hear this statement. Ten to fifteen years ago for example, experts recommended that gluten contained in products from wheat flour should be introduced into the child’s diet as late as possible. Today, the contrary is true.

This does not mean that infants should be given wheat porridge right from birth, but from four to five months of age, this is no longer a problem. Only a few years ago, recommendations were more conservative and strict. It was not rare for doctors to recommend to parents to introduce foods from wheat after the child was at least one year old.

Begin introducing gluten at the age of four months
Recent scientific research has established that late establishment of gluten into the child’s diet can carry risks with it. Studies have found that it is best to begin introducing it earlier. Ideally, gluten should be introduced while the child is still being breastfed, as it brings greater mucosal tolerance to gluten. As a result, the danger of developing celiac disease (disease characterized by gluten intolerance) is lower. This notion is supported by Swedish research which found that children who had gluten introduced earlier were less likely to develop celiac disease than those children, whose parents introduced gluten at a later stage.

When is the right time?
Do you want to limit the risk of your child developing celiac disease? Include gluten into the diet of your child between their fourth and fifth month as part of their additional nutrition. At this stage, most children are still breastfed but this recommendation also applies to children which are partly breastfed or those who are fed with infant formula. For such babies, gluten is introduced in the form of mashes or additives to meat and vegetable baby food.

Children’s diet under scrutiny
Once you begin giving your child food other than breast milk or infant formula, it is important to consider the composition of it. Most mashes containing wheat and therefore gluten tend to have sugar added to them. Small amounts of sugar will not hurt your child, but it is good to prevent your child from becoming used to the sweetness. In most cases, children do not require it. It is not necessary to prepare the mash at home, but as a rule of thumb, the smaller the child, the simpler the food should be. In the case of mashes, this means that you should not be adding additional sugar or enriching it with flavors or dyes.
It is important to resist the temptation to offer sweet biscuits to your child this early on. This applies to products which the manufacturers often claim are suitable for children from six months of age. Children will probably like them, but it will be difficult to convince them to eat more suitable and healthier options that are not salted or sweetened.

Recommended dosage of gluten

Celiac disease versus allergies
Many people do not differentiate between gluten intolerance, which is typically associated with celiac disease and allergies. Some believe that including or excluding gluten in the child’s diet has a direct impact on the probability of developing allergies. The matter is more complicated – by introducing gluten, the risk of developing celiac disease can be lowered considerably. There also seems to be a correlation between this and allergies. As the body becomes used to a more varied diet including gluten, it learns to react to new stimuli including potential allergy-causing agents. This is why the introduction of gluten is suitable for children where problems are not yet expected.

I am breastfeeding. What should I (not) eat?
Recommendations for baby food are not the only approach that has changed. The same applies to recommendations for mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding. In specific, previously held breastfeeding beliefs concerning avoiding allergens do not actually have any preventative effect and this approach is therefore being abandoned. The case is different in cases when the baby is already suffering from visible problems (such as eczema). In such cases, certain restraints are required.

Children without allergic reactions
On the other hand, it is important to introduce potential allergens to the child’s diet carefully and ideally, in small amounts. If, for example, you wish to introduce white yoghurt to the diet of your child (recommended after six months), try feeding him/her only a couple small spoonfuls to see if it does not cause any digestion issues or skin rashes. Keep in mind that new foods should be introduced one at a time (for example one type of vegetable) and always a couple of days apart.

The official recommendation by the gastroenterology and nutrition working group of the Czech Pediatric Society from April 2014 is as follows. A healthy, developing child should receive baby food in the 26th week and gluten should be introduced in the first weeks of the seventh month of the child’s age. In practice, this means that approximately 7.5 grams should be provided daily (equivalent of two spoonfuls of wheat flower) for example in a vegetable mash or two piškot cookies in a fruit mash. If the mother has insufficient amounts of milk and the child stops thriving, he/she can receive baby food which contains gluten between the 17th week all the way to the 26th. It is only then that infant formula should be used in case the mother’s own milk is not sufficient.

Author: Barbara Taušová – pediatrician, founder, executive head and director of private family medical center Canadian Medical Care in Prague, owner of a private pediatric office in Prague.
Published01 August 2014
Author / Source
Canadian Medical Care
Czech Republic
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