Want to avoid celiac? Don’t delay wheat past six months
© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD
Current recommendations suggest the introduction of complementary, solid foods between 4-6 months of life. Starting foods like grains, legumes, and probably eggs and cow’s milk later than six months seems to lead to an increased risk of food allergy.
And maybe other adverse reactions, too. Celiac disease isn’t an allergy—it’s an autoimmune disorder triggered in susceptible people by exposure to gluten, a protein found naturally in wheat, barley, and rye. It affects probably 1 in 100 people, and those people should not ever eat foods containing gluten. Norwegian researchers just published a study looking at when babies started eating wheat—and found that introduction earlier than 4 months, or later than 6 months, led to the highest later rates of celiac disease.
It’s a pretty nifty study, too. They followed a cohort of 107,000 babies, tracking their feeding habits and later diagnoses of celiac disease. The effect size wasn’t huge, but after controlling for other factors like mom’s celiac status, the risk of celiac for babies who first ate wheat after six months was increased by about 25%.
A surprising, second finding: babies nursed for longer than 12 months also seemed to have a modestly increased risk of celiac disease.
So: again, forget about all of that delayed solids business, once thought to help prevent allergy. Between 4-6 months of life, start adding solids to Junior’s diet—and it doesn’t just have to be traditional “baby food.” Anything puree-able is good. Little jars are fine for convenience, but the best way to get a good mix of food is to mash up whatever you’re eating.