Parental advice: Food allergies and intolerances

by NicciLouise

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An allergy is the body’s rejection of a food. 2 in 10 people in the UK believe themselves to be allergic to certain foods, but fewer than 10% of those who believe themselves to be ‘allergic’ can actually be medically proven to be so [1]

An intolerance is the body’s inability to digest, or absorb a specific food and this can be caused by many different reasons such as food poisoning or a temporary intolerance (which shows as vomiting, diarrhea or rashes). This category also includes the avoidance of food due to the dislike of its texture, or the fact that it reminds you of an unpleasant feeling or event [1] whether it be consciously or sub consciously.

The main culprits

The most common foods that provoke reactions are milk, eggs, fish and shell fish, nuts, soya (inc soya made into meat substitutes), pork, chocolate, coffee, tea, citrus fruit and strawberries.

What can be done?

It is important not to withdraw food from a child’s diet without ensuring that you can still meet their daily nutritional requirement of Energy, protein, carbohydrate, iron, vitamin A, C and D, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin and Fibre [1]

However, there are certain precautions that can be taken.

1) When pregnant we should avoid smoking and highly allergenic foods in the latter part of pregnancy [1]. That said my husband is allergic to nuts and we also have asthma and eczema in our family, so while pregnant I consume small amounts of different nuts. I believe that the lack of safe exposure to germs and allergens in our homes is to the detriment of childrens’ health and partly the cause of the  increasing rates of children’s allergic reactions, asthma and eczema. If the immune system does not meet small doses of these things then it will be unable to build up an immunity. I think of it in the same way as how immunizations work. Recent research seems to support this and it was reported on in the news last year following a robust dutch study [2].

2) Previous advice has been to exclusively breast feed for six months [1], but again whether you do, or not does not seem to have an effect on the number of nut allergies [2].

3) Weaning should be delayed until the baby is six months old [1] Although I agree that fruit or vegetables can be started from four months old, for some children, I do agree with the guidelines that the types of food being given to children up to six months should be restricted to lamb, chicken, rice, sweet potato, carrots and pears [1]. Except perhaps I may add a few more vegetables to that, but remember fish, citrus fruit, wheat and dairy etc can all cause intolerances particularly when the child has an infection or is stressed and then this could lead to a phobia of eating the food due to unpleasant memories [1]. This would be a shame at a period in life when food should be new, exciting and fun! My plan would be to have the child eating the same food as you, minus some seasoning, by 2 years old.

4) So foods that should be avoided for up to a year are milk (cow and goat), wheat, fish, soya and citrus fruit [1]. I do think a bit of common sense can be applied to these guidelines. They are our  children after all and as a one-off a bread roll goes down very well to maintain silence at a restaurant.. it is also hard to avoid all dairy. But, if you are going to buy prepackaged baby food and we all do sometimes, please put back down the stage 2 cheesy meat pasta I see and cringe at. I am sure you may suffer with heartburn after cheese drenched pasta with meat, or maybe it just lies heavy on the stomach sometimes, or perhaps it even gives you constipation. Think on how your small baby will struggle on the inside with their immature digestive system!

Citrus fruit slices

Citrus fruit slices (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5) As a sideline, In the UK, though safe in pregnancy, we are advised not to allow our babies to eat honey due to the risk that their immature immune system will be unable to cope with the exposure to the Clostridium bacteria and this can then lead to the infection botulism [3]. Supermarket bought honey, due to its processing, is deemed fit to consume from 1-year-old, but if you prefer your honey bought straight from the hive, when it has not been pasteurized, then the age limit increases to 2 years old minimum. Please don’t let this put you off honey in the longer term it is delicious and has added health benefits in comparison to sugar.

6) Ground nuts should be introduced with care from 3 years old [1], even though they may have been eaten in pregnancy where your own system has protected your baby. It says ground nuts because whole nuts, like whole grapes (which are fine when halved) are a choking hazard.

Special diets

Coeliac condition

This is a disorder of the small intestine caused by an intolerance to gluten. The gluten found in wheat, barley, rye and oats damages the lining of the small intestine which results in poor absorption of nutrients [1]. This is a life long condition that is diagnosed medically and on an interior camera you can see the normal comb like villi, which increase the surface area of the gut have become damaged and flat. If you suspect that your child has this, and there is often a family link, you need to seek medical assistance. Once diagnosed, although a permanent condition, your child will be supported on a gluten-free diet and will then thrive and remain healthy. Be warned that wheat flour is often used in certain meat and fish products as a binder, filler or coating [1].

Cystic Fibrosis

This is a genetically inherited, life threatening condition that needs medical supervision. Good nutrition is vital to maintain proper growth, development and to reduce respiratory infections. Cystic fibrosis particularly affects the lungs and digestive system due to thick mucous. Your child’s dietician will probably recommend a  well-balanced high protein, high calorie diet [1].

Diabetes

If you notice your child seems to be excessively thirsty but dry in the mouth, peeing a lot and losing weight then please see their doctor as they may have diabetes. Other signs to look out for are bed wetting when they were previously dry, tiredness, blurred vision and genital itching due to a urine infection or thrush. These children have to maintain their blood sugar within a normal range and this can be helped with a healthy balanced diet that is high in starchy carbohydrates and fibre but low in sugar and saturated fat [1].

Phenylketonuria

This is the condition that they test all babies for in the UK by doing the Guthrie (heel prick) test. It is when the baby lacks a certain liver enzyme to break down the amino acid phenylalanine which then builds up in the system causing harm to the brain. Even though it is quite a rare condition it is important to get the diagnosis early to prevent learning difficulties and hence the early testing for all. If diagnosed these babies will need a life long low phenylalanine diet of special infant formula and substitute protein foods [1].

References

1) Dare, a and Donovan, M (2009) A practical guide to child nutrition 3rd ed. Nelson Thornes: Cheltenham

2) Gillan, G (2012) Eating nuts during pregnancy lowers child’s allergy risk [www] http://health.ninemsn.com/healthnews/8523983/eating-nuts-during-pregnancy-lowers-childs-asthma-risk

3) Dowsen, S (2010) Can I feed my baby honey?  [www] http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_newborn/feeding/honey_botulism.html

 I hope you have enjoyed this article; now why not start the debate? When did you first wean your baby? Have you any tips on overcoming food intolerances or on how to help children stick to restricting diets? Perhaps you have a recipe to share? 

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