Food Allergies and Intolerance
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If Mom, Dad, or both parents has a history of any type of allergy, including hay fever and asthma, it translates into a greater allergy risk for the children, including sensitivity to food.
The good news is that you can head off food allergies in children at risk. Avoiding allergies is based largely on delaying the introduction of the most offensive foodspeanuts, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, and wheat.
You can't change your baby's genetic tendency toward food allergies, but you may be able to minimize allergies. Try these tactics to reduce his chances of developing food allergies by following this advice from the American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Breastfeed Your Baby
Among the myriad benefits of breast milk, putting off food allergy and reducing asthma risk ranks high. Breastfeeding provides the most protection against food allergies during the first three years of your child's life. Why? Breast milk bolsters your baby's immune system. It also provides your infant with antibodies that combine with potential allergens and prevent them from being absorbed into baby's bloodstream. By contrast, infant formula contains proteins that may be allergenic to your infant, especially when allergies run in the family. Breastfeeding moms of children prone to food allergies should eliminate all nuts, including peanuts (technically a legume); eggs; and milk from their diets. That's because the proteins from these foods can make their way intact into breast milk and cause problems in baby. Women who decide to eliminate milk need supplemental calcium and alternate protein and vitamin D sources, too.
Wait Until Six Months to Introduce Solid Foods
Experts say it's OK to give baby food at four months, but you should wait an extra two months to give your baby the edge on food allergy. This extra time allows your infant's intestinal tract to mature that much further. Here's the recommended schedule for more foods.
- Begin offering orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots at seven months. Wait five to seven days before trying a new food to see if baby is sensitive.
- Move on to green vegetables when baby tolerates the orange varieties. Serve up spinach, green beans, and peas. Read the labels of baby foods to avoid milk-based additives.
- Next, offer fruits, but only one at a time. Steer clear of products with potentially problematic additives including tapioca or food starch.
- At nine months, start giving baby grains and other vegetables such as oats, corn, and potato. Save wheat for last since it's allergenic in many people.
- Start adding meat at one year of age.
- Wait until your child's first birthday to offer cow's milk or soy beverages and products made from milk and soy.
- Hold off until two years of age to give eggs to your child.
- Steer clear of peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish until at least three years of age.
Artificial flavors and colors in processed foods can bother hypersensitive kids. Benzoic acid, sodium benzoate and tartrazine yellow, also known as FD&C yellow no. 5, can result in asthma and rashes; yellow no. 5 can be allergenic to people with aspirin sensitivity. Sulfites pose a hazard as well. They're used on a number of processed foods, including shrimp, and on certain fruits and vegetables. Sulfites can trigger asthma and anaphylactic shock in susceptible children and adults. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein contains monosodium glutamate (MSG), which has negative effects on certain people. Tragacanth is a gum that has resulted in some severe allergic reactions.
Make Iron-Fortified Rice Cereal Your Baby's First Solid Food
Stick with rice cereal for the first month, since it's less likely than other grains to be allergenic. Read labels carefully. Even single grain infant cereals may contain malt, which your baby should avoid early on.
Getting over It
Your child may outgrow food allergy. As a child's digestive tract matures, there is less absorption into the bloodstream of certain, but not all, allergens. A child's immune system becomes stronger with the passing years, allowing it to block antigens from wreaking havoc on the body, too.
There's a good chance that your child will outgrow allergies to milk, soy, eggs, and wheat. For example, after reaching age one, it's possible for children allergic to formula made from cow's milk or soy to be tested for their reaction to milk or soy beverages. But there is little likelihood that sensitivity to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish will disappear with time.
How will you know when your son or daughter is old enough to try a food your doctor initially diagnosed as allergenic? Don't take it upon yourself to see whether your child has recovered from a food allergy. Discuss the possibilities of reintroduction with your pediatrician or allergist. Trying out the foods at home is dangerous for your child. And don't count on your doctor reintroducing foods that have in the past caused an anaphylactic reaction in your child, such as peanuts. You shouldn't, either.
Allergies and Asthma: What's the Connection?
Asthma is the chronic inflammation of the airways, which results in episodic wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and coughing that's more likely to occur at night and in the morning. It's the most common ongoing disease of childhood. Out of the 17.3 million Americans who have asthma, an estimated 4.8 million of them are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Asthma is on the rise in this country and worldwide.
The primary goal of asthma management is to reduce airway inflammation. Children who live with smokers and/or who are subjected repeatedly to other air pollution are more likely to have the symptoms of asthma. Sulfites and other food additives can trigger asthma attacks, as can food allergies. Youngsters with asthma and food allergies run a greater risk of having anaphylactic reactions.
More on: Nutritional Resources for Families
Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.
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