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Spotting food intolerances in young kids

 
Would you know if your child had a food intolerance? Food intolerances and food allergies are fairly common these days, so it's important to have some understanding of certain food groups and how they could affect your child. We look at the most common food intolerances, how to identify food intolerances and the difference between food intolerances and food allergies.
Would you know if your child had a food intolerance?

Food intolerances and food allergies are fairly common these days, so it's important to have some understanding of certain food groups and how they could affect your child.

We look at the most common food intolerances, how to identify food intolerances and the difference between food intolerances and food allergies.
 

Food intolerance or food allergy?


In most cases it’s likely that your child has a food intolerance rather than a food allergy.

Food intolerance
A food intolerance is a digestive system response rather than an immune system response.

It occurs when something in your child’s food irritates their digestive system or when they are unable to digest or breakdown food properly. As a result they may get cramps, bloating and headaches and become irritable.

Food allergy
A food allergy on the other hand is an immune system response. It is caused when your child’s body mistakes an ingredient in food (often a protein) as harmful and creates a defence system (antibodies) to fight it.

An allergic reaction occurs which can affect their whole body, not just their stomach.

Symptoms may include developing a rash, hives, or itchy skin, shortness of breath, chest pain or a sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble swallowing or breathing.
 

How to identify food intolerances


Most food intolerances are found through trial and error to determine which food or foods cause symptoms.

Your doctor or specialist may ask you to keep a food diary to record what your child eats and when they get symptoms, and then look for common factors and possible causes of discomfort.

Another way to identify problem foods is through an elimination diet. You begin by completely eliminating any suspect foods from your child’s diet until they are symptom-free.

You then begin to reintroduce the foods, one at a time, which can help pinpoint which foods are causing the symptoms.

However you must seek the advice of your doctor or specialist before beginning an elimination diet to ensure your child is still receiving adequate nutrition.

If your child has a food Intolerance symptoms will usually appear gradually, only happen when they eat a lot of a particular food or if they eat something often. In the majority of cases the symptoms are not life-threatening.

Food allergies on the other hand are likely to come on suddenly and be triggered by even the smallest amount of food. This is likely to happen every time your child eats a particular food and can be life-threatening.
 

Common food intolerances


The most common food intolerances affecting children are lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance.
 
Lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance occurs when your child’s body is unable to easily digest lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk and dairy products.

If they don't make enough of the enzyme that digests lactose (lactase), symptoms such as producing acids and gas may occur.

Some children may be sensitive to small amounts of lactose found in foods, while others can eat larger amounts before they notice any symptoms.

Lactose intolerance can be classed as a genetic condition (primary lactose intolerance) or a temporary condition (secondary lactose intolerance) brought on by illness, but with lactose reintroduced into the diet once they are well again.

Lactose intolerance in babies and toddlers is often confused with colic and should be treated with caution.

As children grow older you may want to consider the removal of certain foods containing lactose from their diet.

However this should always be done under the supervision and guidance of doctor or specialist to prevent dietary deficiencies. Ask them to suggest alternative food ideas too.

It your child is lactose intolerant they should avoid foods containing milk, yoghurt, ice cream, sour cream and processed cheese.
 
Gluten intolerance
Gluten is a type of protein found in foods made from grains such as wheat, rye and barley.

Gluten intolerance occurs when foods containing gluten are not readily absorbed into your child’s body at the levels they usually would be.

Your child can develop symptoms within minutes or sometimes within hours. Symptoms are not always visible but can include gas and bloating, changes in bowel movements, weight loss and feeling very tired.

Children can show signs of gluten intolerance when they are introduced to solid foods or it can occur years after.

Some children suffer celiac disease. Celiac disease is similar to an allergic reaction to gluten which can slow growth and weaken bones in children if left untreated.

It is not known why celiac disease occurs but it often runs in families. Currently the only real cure is by removing gluten from your child’s diet.
 

Treating food intolerances


There is no simple cure. Treatment is usually based on avoiding or reducing your child’s intake of problem foods and treating symptoms when they do eat a problem food.

If you believe your child has a food intolerance, contact your doctor as soon as possible and seek their advice on treatment and foods that should be eliminated from our child’s diet.


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