It’s a pleasure to welcome author and nutritionist Christine Bailey to the blog to share her expertise on allergies.
As parents we want the best for our children. Being diagnosed with a food allergy can feel very daunting both for the parent and the child. As a coeliac myself and with three sons who between them cannot eat a range of foods I have learnt how to adapt our family life and eating patterns without compromising our health or enjoyment of delicious foods. I feel I am lucky. I am a qualified nutritionist and Chef so if anyone was going to be able to create delicious allergy free family recipes that were also nutritious it was going to be me. Working with clients and coping with my children’s dietary restrictions, I have learned that an exciting, healthy and varied diet awaits every child no matter what their situation. in fact, I have found it creates an opportunity to explore a world of food far greater and more diverse and interesting than the one I might have otherwise provided for them.
You are Not Alone
If your child suffers with any type of food reaction, you are not alone. The latest surveys estimate that true food allergies affect up to 8 percent of children (while about 40 percent of British children suffer from one or more types of allergy, including non-food allergies). These account for between 20 and 50 percent of all cases of anaphylaxis resulting in food-allergy related deaths of between 150 and 200 people (children and adults) every year. This is six or seven times more fatalities than deaths resulting from reactions to insect stings. The number of children suffering severe nut or other food allergies has tripled in the last ten years.
What is an Allergy?
The immune system is incredibly complex. It is designed to protect us from bacteria, viruses, parasites and anything else that threatens our wellbeing. Normally, it is brilliantly efficient at telling the difference between something that is harmless and something that is not. Allergies occur when the immune system misreads a harmless substance, such as a food, as pathogenic and launches an antibody attack to destroy it. This results in the production of various inflammatory chemicals including histamine that trigger symptoms such as swelling, hives, nausea, skin reactions, fatigue, tummy problems just to name a few.
There are various types of reactions. When doctors refer to a food allergy, most of the time they are referring to an IgE-mediated food allergy, which you may also hear called a “true” or “classic” food allergy. These types of reactions are most common in children rather than adults. Symptoms tend to be immediate, typically occurring withintwo hours of eating and are normally very obvious.It may result in a range of symptoms, includingitchy rashes, sneezing and in some cases anaphylaxis. While any food can trigger such a reaction the most common are cow’s milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, peanuts, soybeans (and related products), tree nuts (e.g. almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, Brazils, macadamia nuts) and wheat.
Other Food Reactions
There are other foods reactions too – food sensitivities, intolerances and coeliac disease which is an autoimmune condition. While some food reactions are immediate and dramatic many others are more subtle. Often, symptoms appear to be completely unrelated to anything to do with food (e.g. headaches, eczema etc). If you do suspect your child has an allergy it is important to get a proper diagnosis so seek professional support. Once you have confirmation of the problematic foods you can take a proactive approach. This will include liaising with the nursery, school regarding dietary requirements. It will require changing the way you shop and prepare food at home as well as being prepared when eating out, travelling, attending family gatherings and parties. It can feel daunting at first but there are plenty of excellent resources available, websites, forums and your health professional can be a wealth of information too.
European and UK law require eateries across all European countries to let customers know which foods on their menu contain any of the 14 primary allergens. These allergens also have to be clearly identified on UK and European packaging (normally in bold) to make selection of food products easier. These allergens are
Celery (including celeriac) • Cereals containing gluten (wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, kamut) • Crustacea (such as crabs, crayfish, lobster and prawns) • Egg • Fish • Lupin • Milk (including lactose) • Molluscs (such as cockles, mussels and oysters) • Mustard • Peanuts • Sesame • Soy beans • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites • Tree nuts (almond, Brazil nut, cashew, hazelnut, pecan, pistachio, macadamia nut, walnut)
My latest book: My Kids Can’t Eat That: How to Deal with Allergies & Intolerances in Children includes plenty of practical advice on living with a food allergy – whether it’s avoiding cross contamination, coping when travelling, eating away from home or managing parties and family events. It includes over 60 nutritious allergy free recipes as well as meal plans to follow. This book also includes information on the reasons why allergies develop. If you can address the route causes and the underlying imbalances in the body you can reduce your allergic potential and optimise your health and nutrition for good.