Eating lots of pasta, bread, pancakes, buns and pizza during the first years of life increases the risk of developing gluten intolerance if the child has a genetic risk for the disease. These are the showings in a new international study conducted across four countries.
For many years, parents like myself have been advised to give our children wheat at the barely ripe age of 4-6 months old. It was said to protect against gluten intolerance and celiac disease, among other things, this was supported by a multitude of national food agencies.
Researchers have compared the effect of giving children gluten at six months compared to waiting until they turn one year old. The study shows that half as many have celiac disease at the age of two if the gluten was introduced later. At the age of five, however, there is no difference between the children.
The more flour, the higher the risk of celiac disease
Now, an international study conducted in Sweden, Finland, Germany and the United States shows that the amount of gluten that children eat seems to play a role in the development of celiac disease. The study included 6605 babies with genetic risk of celiac disease. On several occasions, parents have had to fill out dietary questionnaires and on the basis of these researchers have analyzed how much gluten the children consumed during the first years of life.
More than one slice of white bread increases the risk
The results show that the children who ate the most flour were most at risk of developing celiac disease. In an interview with one of the researchers behind the study, Daniel Agardh from Lund University, said:
– It is difficult to say how much gluten is harmful and at what level, but it seems that if you exceed two grams per day, which is quite little, the risk increases, compared to those who do not eat two grams per day, says Daniel Agardh.
Two grams of gluten is about the amount contained in a slice of white bread.
Low Gluten Cooking for Babies
The study is a so-called observational study, and researchers cannot establish any causation correlation. The study should be followed with a so-called randomized and controlled trial. In anticipation of such studies, parents can try to vary children’s diets and try out some “low gluten cooking”. Now a days there are recipes galore for pancakes, bread and pizza, which contain alternative types of flour such as buckwheat, sorghum, teff and almond flour. The great thing about them is that the food also becomes more nutritious, a great side bonus. Reducing wheat flour is easier than many people think, especially if you give your child such food right from the start.
Ann Fernholm is the author of several books in Sweden pertaining to health, food and children. She has also founded the Kostfonden, a non-profit research fund with the goal of ensuring that food is used as medicine in healthcare. Every now and then she writes here at Food Pharmacy. The views in the chronicle are the writer’s own.