Friday, December 7, 2012

Gluten Free Diet for Kids - Guest Post by Jackie Guerrero

I first had concerns about my 4 year old daughter, Janelle's health when she began experiencing stomach pains. I thought it was due to her severe acid reflux. Since she was an infant she had always suffered from acid reflux  We would take her to her gastroenterologist, but she'd complain about it still bothering her. Medications were not really working (she was fussy, lots of gas and rubbed her chest and tummy a lot). The doctors didn't really change her medications nor did any further testing. We didn't know to ask for any either. We felt like specialists thought we were over-exaggerating. But as Janelle began to talk, she started to complain about her tummy hurting every night. As a mother, you hate to see your little one hurting. I thought maybe she was lactose intolerant, so I stopped giving her dairy but that didn't really help. I took her to see her pediatrician where her blood was drawn and she was tested for other allergies. Her pediatrician also took an x-ray of her stomach and found a lot of bowel stuck in her intestines L. She recommended increasing her fiber. A few days later she called and stated that Janelle tested positive for one of the celiac tests and recommended she go on a gluten free diet.

Celiac…Huh? Gluten free…what’s that? These were the thoughts that ran through my head while my doctor informed me about my daughter’s blood tests results. Before I even got off the phone I was already searching google! I mean don’t we all go to the internet for answers? (but, that's not always the best thing to do, lol).  Immediately, I was overwhelmed by everything I was reading. I would have to drastically change my daughter’s diet. No more bread, pasta, cereal, cake, cookies, fast food, pizza and even certain brands of vitamins; all my daughter’s favorite meals. What would I feed her? I would have to bring her own food to birthday parties and family gatherings and no more school lunch? I continued to read on and came across Celiac disease and thought…she has a disease! I was literally having an anxiety attack at work. 

Celiac disease is a lifelong disease of the digestive system. People with this disease cannot consume food with gluten. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and grains. Wheat is the second most common ingredient found in food next to sugar. If consumed, a person’s body will react to the gluten by damaging the villi in the small intestine. By damaging the villi, one’s body will not absorb all the vitamins, nutrients and minerals it needs to stay healthy. Some signs and symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss and irritability.

So after my anxiety attack I looked for a restaurant with a gluten free menu because I had no idea what to cook for dinner. So we went to Red Robin Restaurant since I read online they had a gluten free menu. Without thinking about it, my husband, oldest daughter and I ordered hamburgers while we ordered Janelle grilled chicken breasts and sweet potato fries. Yumm…right?
Restaurant selection on night 1 of a new regimen

Wrong! My daughter was so upset because she couldn't have a burger and fries like us. We felt so bad and decided if she had to go on a special diet, we all had to. The next morning, I went to Trader Joe's and bought everything I could find gluten free. And let me tell you it can get pretty expensive. I learned that there were other stores that had a good variety of gluten free items. 

Some of the good ones are:
  •     Fresh N Easy
  •    Ralphs
  •    Sprouts

Many healthy and delicious foods are gluten free: fresh meats, poultry, fish, beans, fresh eggs, fruits and vegetables, and most dairy products. At first, it was a little difficult; I began to go to the extreme with this gluten free diet. I was constantly stressing out about Janelle having to always eat different foods than everyone else, not allowing cross contamination (gluten foods touching non-gluten foods, which can happen in the manufacturing process and/or at home) and stressing about her accidently eating gluten. I thought I had to make everything from scratch. I bought gluten free flour and made my own cake, frosting, granola bars and mac-n-cheese from scratch. I even considered making my own bread for her because the bread at Trader Joe's was super hard! It took a lot of time, patience and second batches. But the important part is that my daughter ate it and she liked it! She was young enough not to notice and didn't even ask for pizza for about 3 weeks!
After a while, I started to notice how much is out there for gluten intolerant individuals. Many restaurants now have gluten free menus such as BJs, Applesbees, Chilis, Red Brick Pizza and Red Robin. I found cereal (Chex, Fruity Pebbles, Rice Krispies), granola bars, pancake mix and even cookies and cake mix! I was super excited because I found there are a good variety of foods out there that were gluten free, I just had to look. I even found some frozen packaged shrimp fajitas made by Ports O’Call in San Pedro! Found that in the freezer aisle at Stater brothers - it’s delicious! It became easier, I just had to change the way I cooked and found out I didn't necessarily have to buy everything gluten free, just take the extra time to read nutrition labels (many gluten-free items are labeled) and cook more fresh meals. I began planning my weekly meals, using grocery lists and was paying more attention to what my entire family was eating. I actually began to like cooking. No more last minute meals or eating out. I became organized!

Homemade creations

I noticed my daughter feeling a little better, complaining less about her tummy hurting. I even felt healthier, energized, no more stomach aches from eating, and my hubby lost 10 lbs! I began to not worry so much about the stress of what we were going to eat and where I was going to buy food. It took about 2 months but I got the hang of things.

Luckily, after a visit with Janelle's gastroenterologist, turns out she is not gluten intolerant, but instead she was diagnosed with bad constipation L We went back to our regular diet. I was relieved but at the same time a little sad because I had put so much time and effort into our new lifestyle. But what I got out of this whole experience is

1. eat healthier 
2. pay attention to what I’m feeding my family 
3. always trust your instincts when having concerns about your child. 

To this day, we don’t know how long she suffered with stomach pain but now know to push the doctors when we, her parents, know that there is something wrong. We know best!

Please consult with your child’s doctor if you have concerns about your child’s health and/or before placing your child on a gluten free diet.
Enjoying Gluten Free Mac N Cheese
Jackie and Janelle:  Thank you for sharing your story with!

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