Notes from the 2014 International Nutrition and Growth Conference in Barcelona

I was fortunate to be able to escape the “polar vortex” 3 weeks ago and travel to sunny Barcelona, Spain for the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition and Growth, a 3-day gathering of doctors, researchers, nutritionists, nurses, and other specialists from around the world. During this conference I learned about the most recent research regarding neonatal and pediatric nutrition, breastfeeding, probiotics, obesity, maternal diet and nutrient supplementation during pregnancy, epigenetics, and the microbiome. I was also given a fair amount of free time to explore one of the most beautiful cities in the world. As an added bonus I was able to eat GF like a queen throughout the city (there will be an upcoming post about this). If it was not for my family, job, and other “real life” things I am not sure that I would ever have left Barcelona!

Although I have pages and pages of notes, abstracts, and presentation slides to sort through, there were some common themes that were repeated over and over again at the conference. Although we’ve heard many of these ideas before, and none of them are “rocket science,” I feel compelled to share, as they are all very important. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. We need for our children to play outside as much as they can. It is good for them to play in and eat dirt, as this strengthens their microbiomes. Having a healthy population of gut bacteria helps to prevent against the later development of allergies and celiac disease. Exposure to sunshine, even on cold winter days, is crucial for the development of healthy bones and teeth.

2. All us need to eat more fish and green leafy vegetables, especially when we are pregnant. The “good” fats in fish, such as salmon, play a huge role in the development of a fetus’ immune system. Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, are full of micronutrients that are important for the development of fetal and infant brains. We need to really pay attention to what we are eating and drinking when we are pregnant, as our diets during pregnancy play a large role in the lifetime health of our unborn babies.

3. We should probably all be taking probiotics, or at least considering doing so. The higher one’s level of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium (good bacteria) in the gut, the less likely one is to develop celiac disease and food allergies later on. Researchers are also finding that an overgrowth of “bad” gut bacteria can predispose both to obesity and mental health issues. The best source of probiotics for babies is breast milk.

4. Rapid weight gain during infancy is not a good thing. If a newborn infant gains too much weight during the first few months of life, he or she will have a much higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome as an adult. Infant obesity is being recognized as an emerging problem in first world countries. Healthy term infants should not be fed on a schedule and should not be forced to continue eating when they no longer seem hungry.

5. All infants need to get their own mother’s breast milk, even if the breastfeeding is partial. The evidence is clear that breastfeeding leads to decreased infections during infancy, improved immune system functioning, optimal brain development, and the establishment of a healthy microbiome. Some breast milk is much better than none at all! When a mother cannot provide breast milk, donor breast milk should be considered, especially for premature infants.

6. Solid foods (including those containing eggs, milk, gluten, etc.) should be introduced to an infant between 4 and 6 months of age, while still being breastfed. This is a critical time in the development of the immune system, and there’s enough research out there showing that babies who receive breast milk when solids are introduced during this time frame have a much lower risk of the later development of both food allergies and celiac disease.

I could keep going but am going to stop for the sake of brevity. As I make my way through some more of my notes, I’ll post information that may be of interest to you. Feel free to ask questions too. I love when readers comment, ask questions, and share their experiences and ideas.  I’ll definitely share my Barcelona dining experiences in an upcoming post as well, as it truly is a great destination for those of us with celiac disease (and non-celiacs too!)

18 thoughts on “Notes from the 2014 International Nutrition and Growth Conference in Barcelona

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi Ana,
      You’re welcome. It was really a great conference and the material touched on so many areas that I am interested in (infant feeding, probiotics, celiac disease, milk allergies, obesity, etc.) I would definitely recommend it to others who have an interest in neonatal and pediatric nutrition and growth. Thanks for taking the time to read my post too.
      I hope you and your family are well and thanks again for your help with all of the resources for Spain!

  1. Karen

    Great information and so valuable to those of us hoping to prevent development of celiac sprue in future generations.

    1. Jess Post author

      Thanks Karen! I think all of us can agree that we’d like to be able to prevent the development of celiac disease in our offspring. Conferences like this one, and the International Celiac Disease Symposium, where large groups of researchers from around the world can meet, share ideas, and collaborate, are a good start. Thanks for reading!

  2. Molly (Sprue Story)

    Seconding Ana’s thanks for sharing your notes. On the topic of probiotics, that’s one I’ve struggled with whether or not to do, because I’ve also read that some people take probiotics that wind up making their own digestive symptoms worse. I’m getting myself back to my doc for a followup appointment soon (since unfortunately I’m still symptomatic after more than a year, even with my celiac antibodies being all the way down…argh!), and I’ll talk to her about it then. Was this something they touched on at the conference? Good probiotics vs. bad probiotics?

    1. Vik

      Hi Jess, welcome back and thanks as always for posting your notes (your patients and their parents are very fortunate that you are so assiduous in your research) and I’m looking forward to hearing about your traveling experiences. Like Molly, I’m on the fence about probiotics. Well, ok not even near the fence, at the thought of taking yet another (especially since it is controversial) supplement-type thingy, ya know?

      1. Jess Post author

        Hi Vik,
        It’s so good to hear from you!
        And please, please don’t think I am trying to force probiotics on any of you guys…I am just reporting back that the scientific evidence is mounting that they may be helpful for many of us, and that it may be something to consider down the line. I personally feel that they’ve made a big difference in my digestive health, but we all have different bodies, different celiac symptoms, food intolerances, etc. Helps to keep it exciting, right?
        What I would love to see or have shared is some good evidence that they can be harmful, so if you come across anything please share.
        I am thinking we should put together a GF retreat to Spain for spring 2015 or 2016. What do you think?

        1. Vik

          Jess, no way do you come across as pushing probiotics. I am glad they work for you. I have heard a couple of gastroenterologists (the one who did my biopsy and the one who is the contact for my support group) say they don’t think they are necessary. But I have also heard them say other stuff that I think is sketchy, so I don’t know what to think. And whether this was a smart thing to do or not, I listened to the “webinar” by the same people who put on the Gluten Summit, and a lot of that made me go hmm or feel overwhelmed, as well. Did you listen to that, by any chance? I just read my notes back and it like another language. (They did say that to not take one certain type of probotic- Floristore if you have anti saccromicies villardi antibody. I have NO idea what that means! This is a disclaimer for anyone reading, that I am not a doctor and don’t know if I even wrote that down or spelled it correctly :-).
          I would LOVE to meet you at a GF event/retreat. I have to admit–I am too anxious of a GF traveler to go overseas right now. Plus there’s the vegan issue which I realize is a choice not a medical necessity. I am proud of you for traveling to Barcelona. I look forward to the day when I feel more comfortable going out to restaurants. I know people with celiac, travel and go to restaurants, I am just not too confident. Ok, I am a chicken about restaurants. (Nice expression for a vegan). Have done it a few times, with fingers crossed, since I don’t get immediate symptoms. So far I’m doing ok on trips, where the hotel has a fridge and microwave and I can go to a store and get stuff to fill in between restaurant stops. I have a trip planned to Vegas with a friend, just for 2 days, hotel is on the Strip with no fridge/microwave, we don’t have a car, and seriously since it is such a short time I’m thinking of just taking my own food. I’ve read a lot of reviews of restaurants there and they are so contradictory, and someone I know says she gets glutened every time she goes to Vegas no matter how careful she is.
          As an end to this ramble. I JUST read a reply from you, from several weeks ago to something I had written , in the topic about joint pain. But I hadn’t realized you replied, since I hadn’t kept checking back for new comments. Is there some widget on your site that I’m missing, that I can click to tell me via email, if there is a new comment to a post, even if it was in a former topic? Does that make sense?

          1. Jess Post author

            Hi Vik,
            I just added a “subscribe to comments” where you or any other reader can get notified if there are new comments on a post on my site. I am praying that it will actually work as I have not had very good luck with some of the plugins I’ve installed in the past. We’ll see…perhaps in the future I’ll actually be able to have the funds to hire someone to update this page, make it look better, install plugins, etc. but I think it is just wishful thinking! I am scared to make too many changes myself because I am worried the entire page will blow up!
            Thanks for the suggestion!

          2. Vik

            Thanks Jess for putting in the plug-in, for comments, here we go testing it to see if it works. And by the way your site looks fine.

          3. Jess Post author

            Hi Vik,
            This is the test of the plugin. When you get a chance, please let me know if you were notified of my reply!
            Thank you!

    2. Jess Post author

      Hi Molly,
      It’s good to see you! I desperately need to catch up on your page too.
      As for probiotics, all of the posters, abstracts, lectures at the conference focused on the “good” ones, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, We’re actually getting pretty close to the point in Neonatology that we’ll be giving them to all NICU babies to help promote colonization with good bacteria.
      I’ve seen a bunch of articles on the internet cautioning against the use of certain bacterial strains of probiotics, but I’ve never actually seen any scientific writings about harmful side effects except in very ill hospitalized patients and people with immunodeficiencies. That being said, any info that you (or Vik) would be able to share from reputable sources would be much appreciated!

      1. Molly (Sprue Story)

        Hi Jess, I’ve been a bad blogger recently so there’s not too terribly much to catch up on, unfortunately (really trying to get back into the groove!). I think the anti-probiotic stuff I’ve read tends to be doctors/dietitians reporting anecdotally about their patients, not actually controlled studies. The concern seems to be that people are spending too much money on over-the-counter probiotics that aren’t the “right” ones, that are either ineffective or actually harmful. A valid concern but I’m not sure how much research backs it up. I’m definitely going to look into it some more.

        1. Jess Post author

          I’ve came across a lot of bad bloggers, and you can trust me that you don’t fit into that category!
          I’ll be by your page soon. I love your creativity, honesty, and writing style. I hope we can meet in person someday!

          1. Vik

            I agree, Molly is a swell blogger and I love her humor and point of view. We are both a year into this celiac adventure.

  3. IrishHeart

    Hey Jess, hey all…
    I am a bit late to this particular discussion, sorry, but I’d like to add that probiotics are most definitely helpful
    for anyone still suffering from symptoms, despite being on a strict GF diet.
    I can honestly say that without them, I would be a mess still. My GI doc did testing that showed a lack of
    beneficial bacteria in my gut and I started supplementing and it made a huge difference.
    Not to be gross (but if you can’t be honest about BMs with fellow celiacs, who can you be?) lol
    I am regular for the first time in my entire life. I have no gastro symptoms at all and I have spectacular
    “mornings”. :) I recommend them to everyone. I have never seen any reports of “bad things” happening from probiotics. On the contrary, most people report improved digestion, less inflammation and no more IBS-like symptoms. Many cultures in the world use kefir, tan, yogurt. etc. as a daily health regime.

    Good microbiome = good health all around. IMHO

    I just saw this article recently. Thought you all might like to read it and decide if they are a good idea.
    I’m liking Florajen3 right now.

    “Probiotics also normalize markers of inflammation (for example, C-reactive protein) and markers of mucosal immune responses (for example, fecal secretory immunoglobulin A – sIgA). Typically, the benefits of probiotics administration cannot be seen instantly. It takes at least 4-6 months to see measurable benefits.

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi IH,
      Thank you for sharing your information about probiotics as well as the link to With all of the new research and information about the impact of the microbiome on diseases, including celiac disease, I feel compelled to spread the word about the benefits of probiotics (as I know you do too). is literally exploding with new research articles concerning probiotics everyday. It gives me hope for my children, and I can say, without a doubt, that they’ve all had far fewer viruses and colds since starting on probiotics last fall. If I miss even a day or two of a Florajen 3 I notice a change in my digestion.
      I hope you’re well and that you had a nice time with your mom. Our last week has been a whirlwind! I hope to be back to bloggjng and commenting on some of the other pages soon!

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