Recognizing a Food Allergy in Children

Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under the age of 18. That is 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom. About 30 percent of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food.
— Food Allergy Research & Education

Those are the stats, and they aren’t fun. One thing these stats don’t include are sensitivities to foods. With food allergies and sensitivities on the rise us moms need to know how to recognize symptoms in our children.

There are a few things that can affect and cause both food sensitivities and allergies. Think of your immune system and allergies as a seesaw, one on each side. If your allergies are inflamed (up high on the seesaw) then you immune system is going to be not acting at its’ full capability (down low on the seesaw). Getting your allergies under control will give you  a healthier child overall.

On top of that, did you know 80% of our immune system lives in our gut? What we eat can help and support our immune system or damage it. All this to say figuring out your child’s issues with certain foods will help them be more healthy overall.

Before we start talking details, I want to remind you to consult your pediatrician. There are varying levels of food allergies and sensitivities. If your child is struggling with symptoms please go to the doctor.

This isn’t just for children. If you think you might have a food allergy this also could apply to adults.

Common Allergens

90% of all food allergens are on this list. That doesn’t mean your baby will not react to other things, but it is much less likely. If you have not introduced these foods yet spend a few days evaluating if they react to these particular foods.

  • Dairy (mostly in children)
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts, like walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, and pecans
  • Soy
  • Wheat and other grains with gluten, including barley, rye, and oats
  • Fish (mostly in adults)
  • Shellfish (mostly in adults)

Other Common Allergens:

  • Corn
  • Nitrates (in packaged meats)
  • Sesame (may be in hummus)

Common Allergic Reactions:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth.
  • Hives, itching or eczema.
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body.
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing.
  • Abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
  • Dizziness, lightheartedness or fainting.

Are looking at this list and saying to yourself… “I never thought my child had a food allergy, but they do experience these symptoms.” It is okay, keep reading.

I want to spend a minute on this one specifically - abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. If any of these things are happening regularly with your child and you can’t find a commonality see the section below on elimination diets.

Differences Between an Allergen and Sensitivity

To truly be allergic to something it has to be a protein based substance.  You can experience an “allergic-type” reaction to foods that are not protein based.  For example there are plenty of people who are lactose intolerant. They do not have the enzymes they need to break down the sugar in milk- lactase. This would be considered a food sensitivity because lactose isn’t a protein.  Milk proteins are called caseins. There are 3 or 4 caseins in the milk of most species, so if you react to these “you are allergic to milk”.

As you are starting to see there are TONS of different combinations of things that could be bothering your system. You could have an actual food allergy to a protein in food or an endless amount of sensitivities. Not to worry, we can figure this out.  

Questions to ask yourself about your kid:

Is the problem being caused by a nutrient deficiency?

Some of the symptoms above can be caused by a nutrient deficiency. I know that might seem scary, but honestly this is going to be easier to handle than eliminating a food they are allergic to from their diet. If this is the case I would need to talk with you about your child and your specific case.

Is the problem being caused by something we need to avoid?

This would be a food allergy or a sensitivity. These do change throughout our life so it might not be something that needs to be avoided forever.

Pulse Test

To answer the above questions I want to introduce you to the Coco Pulse Test. This is a test that you can do at home with your child to figure out what exactly is going on.

Here is what you do:

  1. Have your child sit down and take their pulse for one full minute. I know this could be difficult with a child, but I give you full permission to turn on some Disney movie to make it happen.  (Write down this number)

  2. Have you child stand up and wait 15-30 seconds.

  3. Start taking their pulse again for a full minute. (Write down this number)

If the number raises more than six points the second time you take it, then they are experiencing allergic tension. They are allergic to something they are being exposed to.

If it stays the same or only raises slightly (less than 6 points). Then they are not experiencing allergic tension and their symptoms are being caused by something else.

Elimination Diet

Okay, so you think your child has a food allergy or sensitivity and you have no idea what it is. I am sorry. I know this is frustrating, overwhelming, and let’s be honest just annoying. I get it. I do know that (from personal experience) once you figure this out your child will feel so much better and in turn be much more enjoyable for you momma.

Elimination diets are a pretty common concept nowadays. General gist… eliminate all the foods on the common allergen food list (mentioned above) for at least 2 weeks. Then slowly start reintroducing the foods, and see what happens.

Man did I ever make that sounds simple. It isn’t an easy thing to do to totally change what you are eating, but no fear it is only two weeks. You can do this.

Some general tips:

  • Put the whole family on the elimination diet. You will drive yourself crazy cooking so much food, and the child will feel isolated. Make it a team effort.
  • Butter is dairy and canola oil (it has corn in it) is off limits too. So stick to good healthy fats. See this article for more.
  • Give at least three days in between reintroducing foods to watch for a reaction.
  • When reintroducing foods try to stay as pure to the source as possible. For example when introducing corn don’t do corn chips, introduce corn on the cob. When introducing gluten (wheat) don’t just got for straight white bread, try Ezekiel bread or farro (grain with naturally occurring gluten). Your child very likely might be able to eat corn on the cob, but not canola oil. This might seem tendious, but in the long run wouldn’t you rather their diet be less restrictive? If they can have corn on the cob you want to know that.
  • It is easiest to just think of this as a diet with fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Please reach out to me if you have any questions. You got this momma.