Did you know that Australia is known as the ‘food allergy capital’ of the world?
Food allergies and sensitivities in children are on the rise, with research indicating that 4-8% of children under 5 years of age have a food allergy, and a whopping 10% of babies under one year have a proven food allergy.
In comparison, globally, 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.
While many food allergies in children are not severe and may be outgrown with time, some are less likely to be outgrown and may end up being lifelong allergies, such as peanut, tree nut, seed, and seafood allergies.
The good news is there is plenty you can do to help prevent and manage them. Let’s dive in!
Why do allergies occur?
Allergies occur when the body overreacts to an allergen or ‘trigger’ that is typically harmless to most people. Around 1 in 4 people are allergic to something, and around half of all allergy sufferers are children.
The symptoms of an allergy range from mild to severe. In most cases, effective treatments are available to manage or treat allergy symptoms. However, the most severe type of allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which can be fatal if prompt medical attention is not sought.
What are the symptoms?
Common signs that your child may have an allergy include:
- Sneezing or a runny nose
- Red, watery, itchy eyes
- Wheezing, coughing and problems breathing
- Skin rashes
- Tummy pains, vomiting and diarrhoea
Food allergies, in particular, are often associated with hives or swelling around the mouth, which usually happens within 30 minutes of ingesting a food the child is allergic to. If you are concerned that your child may have an allergy, see your local GP or healthcare provider. Common testing for food allergies includes skin prick allergy tests using food extracts or blood tests. Certain foods may also be eliminated from the diet to confirm an allergy.
What are the main food allergens in children?
- Dairy (Casein)
- Tree nuts
How to avoid food allergies?
There’s no concrete evidence that food allergies can be prevented. Research shows that there is a genetic component that determines the likelihood of a child having allergies (including food allergies). Studies show that a child with one allergic parent has a 30% to 50% increased chance of developing an allergy. The chances of a child with two allergic parents developing allergies can be as high as 60–80%. Note, this includes all allergies not only food allergies.
A few things you can do which may help:
- Breastfeed your child until 6 months of age
- Take probiotics regularly from pregnancy onwards, if possible. Kefir, yogurt, and kombucha are also good sources of probiotics, or you can also use supplements.
- Ensure you meet your RDI of Omega-3s and vitamin D. Omega-3s are found in oily fish such as wild salmon, sardines, and mackerel, as well as grass-fed beef, flaxseeds, and walnuts. Oily fish, cod liver oil and eggs are all good sources of vitamin D – not to mention a little sunshine!
- Avoid processed and sugary foods – This is especially important, as is avoiding foods containing preservatives 280-282 and sulphites, which can also give rise to and exacerbate allergies. Try to avoid packaged foods and aim to follow a whole food diet as much as possible.
Managing food allergies safely in your home.
It’s essential that your fridge, freezer, and pantry contain allergy-friendly ingredients and store-bought products. I also advise having on hand detailed guidelines and action plans on how to manage your child’s food allergies for grandparents, older siblings, or babysitters if they need to step in and feed your child.
Allergy-friendly shopping tips
- Read food labels every time you purchase a food product. If it indicates that the product ‘contains’ or ‘may contain’ a particular allergen, then it is not suitable for children allergic to any of the ingredients listed or mentioned in the food list or listed as a possibility of being present in trace amounts.
- If you don’t recognise an ingredient, if an ingredient list is not visible or if the ingredient list is written in a foreign language, then avoid the product altogether. Be careful when purchasing imported products, as labelling rules differ in different countries.
- Remember to do the ‘Triple Check’ and read the label:
- Back in your kitchen, before packing it away
- Before using it for meal prep or serving
MindChamps Global Chief Nutrition Officer Mandy Sacher is Australia’s leading Paediatric Nutritionist, best-selling Author, child nutrition expert, blogger, and mother of two! She is also known for co-developing MEND (Mind Exercise Nutrition Do It!), the world’s largest and most researched childhood obesity prevention and treatment program based in the UK that was developed with over ten years of research.
Mandy and her Nutrition Team believe in the well-being of all our MindChamps children and that their nutritional needs should be fulfilled in our centres. Mandy’s philosophy is simple – teach children’s taste buds to enjoy nourishing, nutritionally beneficial foods as early as possible to ensure optimal development and establishment of lifelong healthy eating behaviours. Bridging the gaps in food and nutrition, this first-of-its-kind partnership is our commitment to creating and elevating a positive and lasting impact on childhood nutrition on a global level.