The first mission in creating safe meals for children with food allergies is avoiding the offending ingredient. But, there can be a downside to diets that miss out on the nutritional value found in foods kicked off the menu. A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (JAND) cautions that inappropriate elimination diets can induce vitamin and mineral deficiencies, anemia and other symptoms affecting a child’s growth and nutritional status.
“Food allergies and intolerances are on the rise,” said registered dietitian Vandana Sheth, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But it’s important that we identify that kids are actually allergic (through proper testing) before we avoid those foods unnecessarily.”
The eight foods that account for more than 90 percent of childhood cases of food allergies include milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, pecans), wheat, fish and shellfish. Food intolerances such as lactose and gluten add even more children to the at-risk list for nutrient deficiencies.
“A parent should always offer a variety of different foods within a food group,” said registered dietitian Cheryl Orlansky, president of the Greater Atlanta Dietetic Association. Gluten-free grains inlude rice, corn and quinoa. Sheth says if a child is allergic to peanut butter, substitute sunflower seed butter.
Registered dietitian Toby Amidor, author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen said, “If you skip dairy, you skip its nine essential nutrients. Studies show people with lactose intolerance may tolerate up to a cup of fluid milk, which has 12 grams of lactose. Cheeses, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are much lower in lactose.”
Mind the gap
The food allergy study in JAND measured the benefit of dietary counseling in preventing and correcting nutrient deficiencies in children with food allergies. Results from the multi-center study in Italy showed that advice on what foods to eat to help fill in the gaps helped kids get enough calories, protein and other needed nutrients. “I think it’s fascinating,” said Sheth. “They showed that dietary counseling really helped and growth patterns were improved.”
Sheth said, “A lot of kids outgrow allergies to eggs and milk by age 16. But other allergies such as nuts may be life long.” Her knowledge comes first hand. Her son was diagnosed with over 20 food allergies as a child. “Now he’s a healthy JV football player. He’s down to four or five allergies including all nuts. I always feed the team so I can keep an eye on what he’s eating!”