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Managing Food Allergies, Intolerances and Sensitivities In Children

Posted by Mandy Sacher on September 19, 2017

Posted by Mandy Sacher on September 19, 2017

Food allergies and sensitivities amongst children are on the rise, making it an increasing source of concern and stress for parents and caregivers.

Recent studies show that food allergies and sensitivities occur in around 1 in 20 children, with hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) doubling over the last decade in Australia, the USA and UK [1].

 

The most common foods associated with adverse reactions include wheat (gluten), dairy, nuts and eggs. Given the fact that these foods feature so prominently in everyday recipes, groceries and at social gatherings (picnics, parties and at friends’ houses), it makes conscientious and mindful eating difficult for kids and a veritable minefield for adults to navigate.

 

Although awareness and understanding of allergies is on the rise amongst those unaffected, it still remains an emotional and logistical challenge for parents and caregivers who are all too familiar with the unpleasantries associated with adverse reactions in their little ones.

 

It is common (and completely understandable) for children who experience illness and discomfort after eating certain foods to become more fussy and wary of different, or new foods.  It is for this reason, that I have included extensive information around food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities in my book – as well as proven strategies for helping with fussy eating.

 

For those with little ones who have food intolerances and who are worried that their child isn’t eating a broad range of foods, there is most definitely hope! Eating a broad range of food groups is still possible by using a few simple ingredient substitutions.

 

Why do allergies occur?

Allergies occur when the body overreacts to an allergen or ‘trigger’ that typically is harmless to most people. Around one person in four is allergic to something and around half of all allergy sufferers are children[2]. The symptoms of an allergy range from mild to severe. The most severe type of allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which can be fatal if prompt medical attention is not sought. In most cases however, effective treatments are available to successfully manage and treat unpleasant symptoms.

 

Coeliac Disease vs. Gluten Intolerance vs. Wheat Allergy – What’s the difference?

A wheat allergy can be defined as an immune response to one or more of the proteins found in wheat (this can include gluten). Symptoms can be gastrointestinal and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, bloating and constipation. Other symptoms can also include hives, rash, nasal congestion, mouth or throat irritation as well as mood and behaviour disorders. This can be managed and the symptoms treated through a strict adherence to a wheat-free diet and lifestyle.

Gluten intolerance exists when there is an intolerance to gluten or other wheat components without damage to the small intestine. Symptoms can include diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal pain as well as constipation. Sufferers can also experience brain fog, neurological disorders, joint pain, fatigue as well as mood and behaviour disorders. Again, this can be managed and resolved through an adherence to an appropriate wheat-free or gluten-free diet.

Coeliac disease is the most severe and due to a genetic autoimmune disorder, whereby gluten indigestion triggers damage to the small intestine. Symptoms include diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, cramping, bloating and abdominal pain. Left untreated, it can cause weight loss, malnutrition, iron deficiency, dental cavities, low bone density, skin issues, neurological disorders, liver dysfunction, joint pain, hair loss and fatigue. Strict adherence to a gluten-free lifestyle makes this disease manageable, and when followed, allows those affected to thrive.

 

NB: If you suspect that your child suffers from adverse reactions to gluten or wheat based foods, it is advised to see your family doctor as soon as possible. Keeping a food diary can help determine certain patterns and identify problem foods.

 

Tip:  If your child has coeliac disease, gluten intolerance or a wheat allergy (or if you simply want to reduce the amount of gluten in their diet), try wholemeal spelt flour, almond flour, coconut flour and buckwheat flour in place of wholemeal flour. Lettuce, cabbage leaves or nori sheets can be a delicious and excellent replacement for traditional wraps, too).

 

 

What about Dairy Allergies?  Lactose Intolerance vs. Cow’s Milk Allergy

Lactose intolerance is caused by the body having insufficient lactase to digest lactose. Uncomfortable but not dangerous, this can result in stomach pain, bloating, gas and diarrhoea. Resolved through either restriction or removal, sufferers can generally enjoy lactose-free milk options, or other low-lactose dairy options.

Cow’s milk allergy is far more severe and is caused by an immune response to one or both milk proteins. Symptoms include vomiting, hives, diarrhoea, wheezing and sometimes even life-threatening anaphylaxis. If there is any family history of dairy allergy, then it’s important to look out for the following signs of sensitivity:  eczema flare-ups, loose stools, ear infections, constantly runny nose, bloating, cramps and rhinitis.

 

Again, keeping a food diary goes a long way to isolating food-based symptoms and observing consistencies. Always seek guidance and advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner. If your little one is allergic or intolerant to dairy, don’t despair. There are a host of other non-dairy rich sources of calcium – many of which contain a more diverse array of nutritional benefits than cow’s milk e.g. sardines with bones, canned salmon with bones, meat broths, sesame seeds, tahini, hummus, almonds, rhubarb, dried apricots, oranges, limes, kiwi fruit, broccoli, kale and leeks are all great sources of calcium.

 

NB: Non-dairy alternatives in the form of rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, soy milk or hemp milk shouldn’t be used as a milk replacement for babies. They can be used in cooking and baking, provided no nut or associated allergies exist. From age 1-2 they can be used as part of a balanced diet, please see Dairy chapter in Wholesome Child: A complete nutrition guide and cookbook for full details on how to choose the best option for your child.  

 

Egg Substitutes

If your child has an egg allergy, replace the egg in baked items such as muffins, breads, slices etc. with the following egg substitutes (each suggestion is a substitute for 1 egg):  

  • 1-2 tablespoons ground chia seeds (measured whole) and 3 tablespoons hot filtered water (allow the mixture to sit for approximately 5-10 minutes)
  • 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds and 3 tablespoons of water (it’s important to refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before adding to the batter)
  • 1/4 cup sweetened applesauce and 1/2 a teaspoon additional baking soda

 

Substituting is a great way to ensure that your child is able to enjoy a wide and diverse range of recipes and food groups… and an effective way for parents with allergy sufferers to address this difficult battle.

 

The Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook has a wide range of allergy-friendly recipes and advice – the book is available online, in stores and also from iTunes.

 

This article is in no way intended as a replacement for qualified medical practitioner advice. If you suspect allergies or intolerances exist, always consult your GP, paediatric dietitian or healthcare provider to discuss your child’s needs.

 

[1]  http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/food- allergy

[2] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/allergies

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