Food allergies seem like an epidemic these days… between gluten intolerance, dairy-free-diets, and the more familiar nut allergies, it can be overwhelming to keep all of the different guidelines straight, particularly when you’re cooking for a friend or family member that has diet restrictions you’re not familiar with.
Food intolerance and sensitivity is actually much more common than true allergies.
It’s so important to get it all straight, though, since one wrong ingredient can make a loved one seriously ill and even land them in the hospital!
It turns out that much of what we refer to as allergies, are not allergies at all!
Many people believe they have a food allergy because of the symptoms experienced when they eat a certain food. Many of these cases are not true allergies, however. More children than adults suffer from food allergies, but most are outgrown by the age of five years old. The allergies that cause more severe reactions usually continue into adulthood.
A true allergic response to food is one that involves the immune system. Antibodies are produced the first time the food is eaten and each subsequent time, a reaction occurs as a result of the histamine release from cells attached to body tissues and organs. There are reactions to particular foods that do not involve the immune system but produce some of the same results.
This reaction is called food intolerance. Every time the food, let’s say chili for example, is eaten, the body will go through a series of not so pleasant symptoms that subside over time. With a food allergy, the symptoms gradually get worse.
Common Allergies in Children
From infancy to two or three years of age, pediatricians recommend that children be introduced to new foods slowly. They believe that introducing children to solid foods before six months of age puts them at greater risk for developing food allergies. Any allergies that may occur usually disappear by two or three years old.
Pediatricians and scientist also believe that breastfeeding your child for the first six months of life will protect them from most food allergies. This has not been proven conclusively. Children who are breastfed for six months or longer do gain enhanced immunity from the mother’s milk. But, parents may have had allergies as well and heredity does play a part in whether or not the child will develop any type of food allergy at all.
The most common allergies in children are: eggs, shellfish, fish, milk, soy, peanuts, true nuts, and wheat (gluten allergy). They can occur when foods are introduced early in a child’s diet. Some like shellfish, peanuts, fish, and wheat don’t usually disappear but affect them as adults.
How to Prevent Food Allergies
Who is at risk for a food allergy? Well, anyone can develop a food allergy. A child with one or both parents who suffered from or still suffer from allergies does have a greater chance of being affected by food allergies. Any allergy could be one that fades with time or it could be of a more severe type that continues their entire life.
Delayed Introduction is a method recommended by pediatricians. When a child is old enough to eat solid foods, they are not fed from the table but introduced to single ingredient foods like baby applesauce, strained green beans, sweet potatoes, and the like. Each food is given at least four days before another food is added to their diet.
This method allows a parent to observe the child for any signs of allergy symptoms. If any are present, the food will be eliminated from the child’s diet and a doctor consulted about what to do next. In the absence of visible signs, parents may continue to select new foods for baby to eat.
Doctors advise new parents about the kinds of food their children can eat when it is time for solid foods. The foods that are most likely to cause food allergies are the ones recommended for avoidance. Since milk and soy are potential allergens, doctors recommend breast milk for as long as it is feasible.
The other common childhood allergens are not to be introduced until two or three years of age. This also means foods that may contain nuts, eggs, peanuts, and shellfish are on the naughty list.
Some of the most offending foods for children are fresh fruits and vegetables. One wouldn’t think that fresh would be of harm but there are more potentially allergic proteins in these foods when they are introduced into a child’s diet too early. The processed fruits and vegetables that we eat have lost many of these substances during the cooking and canning process. Introduce only one at a time to be able to identify the cause of any reactions!
Prevent food allergies in children by delaying the introduction of foods deemed as potentially problematic. Be on alert if one or both parents suffered from allergies as children or as adults. It is not pleasant to suffer from food allergies so if it can be avoided do so. If you are not sure what you are dealing with, consult a physician. They will send you on to an allergist if they believe a true food allergy is present.
May Every Step You Take Be Healthy!
Debbie Estis Greenspan
Dr. Doormat, Inc.