Gluten & Toddler Behavior

At first glance, gluten-free diets may resemble dietary fads of the past, but living a gluten-free lifestyle is a medical necessity for some people. Gluten, found in some grains and in combination foods that contain gluten, is harmless for most children, but for the 1 percent of Americans who have celiac disease and the additional 6 percent who have a gluten sensitivity, it can cause discomfort and health problems, according to Dr. Glenn Gaesser, professor and director of the Health Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University 3. If you're concerned about the way your little one tolerates gluten, monitor his intake and consult a physician for guidance.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in wheat, barley and rye and combination foods that contain even trace amounts of any of these grains, such as soy sauce, salad dressing and soup. Gluten is responsible for the elasticity of bread and other baked goods. It absorbs and retains moisture more effectively than foods without gluten.

Gluten Allergy and Intolerance

There's a plethora of resources for those who wish to live a gluten-free life. The number of gluten-free guidebooks, cookbooks, websites and magazines is rapidly on the rise, all in apparent response to the increasing demand. Fueling this demand might be an increased awareness about gluten allergies and intolerance. According to, a gluten allergy known as celiac disease usually targets one or more organs such as the skin, the intestines, the respiratory passages or the brain, which may lead to behavioral changes. A gluten intolerance is a milder reaction -- it means that the ingestion of gluten causes stomachache or abdominal discomfort.

Effects on Behavior

If your child has a sensitivity to gluten, he may have chronic body aches, diarrhea and abdominal pain, all of which tend to make an unhappy child. Dr. Lawrence Wilson, a nutrition consultant, notes that symptoms of a food allergy may even include:

  • runny nose
  • swelling
  • anxiety
  • joint pain
  • excessive talking
  • aggressive behavior

Gluten Free Isn't Always Best

Children who have been diagnosed by a physician with a gluten intolerance or allergy must abstain from gluten in all forms. However, there are no proven benefits to eating a gluten-free diet otherwise, says Dr. Gaesser 4. In fact, many gluten-free foods are laden with sugar and added fats. An elimination diet under the guidance of a physician or nutritionist is one of the first steps. By restricting your child's food intake to a purely gluetn-free diet, then gradually and systematically reintroducing foods in his diet while monitoring physical symptoms and behavior, it becomes easier to discern whether he has an intolerance or allergy to gluten or possibly to something else 4.