Every time I turn around, people claim yet another diet will cure arthritis or other autoimmune diseases. Some of the most popular ones at the moment are the paleo and ketogenic diets, which both emphasize protein and fat over carbs. Regardless of a diet’s name, I’ve noticed one consistency: Many are either gluten-free or low in gluten.
You may have heard about these diets from TV, magazines, or online and wondered if they might benefit your child with juvenile arthritis. It may be tempting to give it a try.
But while well-meaning loved ones may insist you allow your child with JA to try a special diet, there is currently no guidance that kids with JA need to follow gluten-free diets. While we need more research about the subject, early studies have found no correlation between gluten intake and pain levels in kids with JA.
Besides that, restrictive diets such as paleo and keto are not recommended for kids or teens. Even restricting gluten without reason is a no-no, as kids need carbs and other nutrients found in whole-grain products.
I admit I’ve used diet a few times over the years to try to control my symptoms. When I left home to go to college and had to cook for myself, I had stints of eating gluten-free. Sometimes, I did it out of peer pressure from those around me. Other times, I was desperate for symptom relief and thought, “Why not?”
I swapped pasta, noodles, and bread with lots of rice and veggies. I replaced pre-packaged snacks with hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and cheese. Oatmeal became my favorite breakfast, and I’d eat it with fruit and cinnamon. I slowly started to feel better, though it took weeks.
While I felt better on these diets, I attribute it to the fact that I stopped eating processed, sugary foods. I found many gluten-free pasta and cereal alternatives a little too expensive, and sometimes they were loaded with sugar to compensate for taste. So, I started buying a lot of frozen veggies, rice, beans, and eggs. Maybe cutting gluten helped, too, but I think eating better was the most significant influence on why I felt better.
What if there is a gluten allergy?
Autoimmune diseases have a nasty habit of collecting, and it’s not uncommon for someone to have more than one. Sometimes kids with JA do have celiac disease, and following a gluten-free diet will significantly reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life. But it’s important to remember that not every child with JA will develop a gluten allergy or sensitivity.
If you’re genuinely concerned that your child has a sensitivity or allergy to gluten, the first step is to talk with their doctor. They may recommend testing for celiac disease and refer you to a nutritionist to put together a diet plan. It’s important not to do this without a doctor’s supervision, because doing so can cause or worsen vitamin deficiencies.
Nutrition makes a difference
While gluten-free and keto diets are out for children with JA, it doesn’t mean you can’t use nutrition to improve your child’s health.
A well-balanced diet benefits children and teens with JA in many ways. Vitamin D and calcium are essential for growing bones, which may experience some thinning due to chronic inflammation and steroids. Getting enough B vitamins can help with fatigue. A healthy diet can help your child keep excessive weight off, which can improve their joints.
You might want to consider adding some foods to your child’s diet to help fight inflammation and encourage healthy growth. Even though these foods aren’t a cure, they likely will improve your child’s health. When combined with your child’s usual therapies, there’s a great chance your child might feel better overall.
I haven’t been eating very well recently, and consequently, I’ve been very sluggish. But I hope to change that soon! I’ve been learning how to prepare more seafood dishes, and I hope to get back to my routine of stir-fries and rice bowls soon. While most of these foods are naturally gluten-free, I’m convinced that fueling my body with fresh ingredients and fewer processed ones is what helps me feel better.
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.
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