Discover your child’s food enemies and keep little tummies happy with our guide to allergies and intolerances
Getting kids to sit down and eat a proper meal can often turn into a battle of wills. And while it’s natural for children to go through fussy stages, for little ones with food allergies or sensitivities, the battle is a very different one. Recent research indicates that more than a third of parents suspect their offspring has an intolerance or allergy, but the distinction between the two is often blurred. Here, we’ve put together a simple guide to help you recognise any problem foods and make the most of mealtimes regardless of your children’s dietary requirements.
Allergy vs intolerance
There’s a big difference between the two. According to British charity Allergy UK, one in 12 children now suffers from a food allergy, with numbers steadily increasing. “Everyday foodstuffs can spark abnormal allergic reactions in some children,” says Dr George Du Toit, consultant paediatric allergist at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children. “Their bodies go into overdrive by producing too much of a special antibody called immunoglobulin. This triggers other blood cells to release chemicals, including histamine, which results in an allergic reaction.” This allergic reaction can cause swelling, vomiting and, in more serious cases, even anaphylactic shock. Trigger foods are best avoided if your child suffers an allergy. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as things may naturally change as your little one grows. Repeat tests during childhood will confirm whether the allergy has been outgrown.
Food intolerances or sensitivities are also on the rise, and although these are not as life-threatening as allergies, they come with their own set of problems, including digestive disturbances, skin problems, fatigue and sinus problems. “Dietary sensitivities are generally linked to the health of the gut, in both children and adults. A child’s digestive health may be affected for a variety of reasons, including: a lack of exposure to the right gut bacteria at birth (it’s thought that a vaginal birth and breastfeeding help to inoculate the baby’s gut with good bacteria); by infections; the use of antibiotics at a young age; or because of deficiencies in certain nutrients,” says nutritionist Cassandra Burns of Nutri Centre (nutricentre.com).
Finding the culprit
If you’ve noticed any of the intolerance warning signs listed above, the next step is to eliminate any suspect ingredients one by one over the course of a month and then reintroduce them in small amounts to gauge any reaction. “If you already know your child suffers an intolerance, the specific food can be eliminated for a longer period of time and reintroduced later – say after six months,’ explains Cassandra. During the elimination period, the child’s digestive system and immune system will need to be supported in order to minimise the likelihood of a reaction when the food is brought back into the diet. “Working with a health practitioner, for example a nutritional therapist or naturopath, is recommended to help maximise wellbeing at this time,” Cassandra adds.
Whatever your child’s allergy or intolerance, there are lots of healthy alternatives out there
Gluten-free oats, rice, barley, quinoa, millet and buckwheat are all child-friendly substitutes for wheat grains. “Oats contain fibre, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper and biotin; they can also have a natural calming effect on the body,” says Cassandra. “Quinoa is higher in protein than most other grains, and can be a good source of folate, which is essential for building the blood.”
Non-dairy milks have a lot going for them. Varieties such as oat and coconut milk provide less protein than cow’s milk, but they are often fortified with vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamin D. “Opt for unsweetened versions to avoid added sugar, and avoid soya products as these are not recommended in high amounts,” advises Cassandra. Better still, make your own by blending 1 tbsp of nut butter with 500ml of water until smooth.
As an alternative to milk chocolate, Ombar Coco Mylk bar, £1.99,
is made with delicious coconut cream
Eggs are a base ingredients in many sweet and savoury recipes, but there are plenty of nutritious substitutes. Swap eggs with potassium-packed mashed banana (for every egg use half a banana), 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tbsp warm water, or 1/4 cup of puréed apple or pear for an antioxidant boost.