AH CRAP MY KID IS ALLERGIC TO...
The truth about why kids can’t eat a peanut butter & tuna egg sandwich anymore.
Whether it’s a “no nut” daycare policy, or a gluten free, wheat free, egg free, dairy free, fish free sammy, nowadays it seems as though food allergies and intolerances are as common as a snotty nosed kindy kid.
Our daughter has a peanut allergy. We found that out the hard way by feeding her a teaspoon of peanut butter when she was 8 months old. We rushed her to hospital and luckily they were able to give her a steroid which calmed the reaction and were sent home within a couple of hours. But it got me thinking…is it just me or have we got so cushy in our existence that we have started breeding an army of sensitive, wheezy, rashy, farty and lethargic underdeveloped humans?
Let’s tuck into it by starting with the basics.
Food allergy vs food intolerance
A food allergy is the body overreacting to a bit of protein (and no it’s not the same as your husbands protein shake farts). It’s the body’s immune system getting all worked up and thinking the natural food protein is more harmful than it really is. So a super fired up bunch of natural antibodies start rushing around with a Wing Attack bib on attacking itself.
A food intolerance is similar but usually doesn’t involve the body acting like an overprotective mother who licks her fingers to wipe the yoghurt off your face. Most of the time it’s simply due to not having enough of a particular enzyme to break down the nutrients in the food e.g lacking the enzyme lactase to break down lactose (found in milk) in the stomach.
Sometimes the differences between allergy and intolerance are hard to spot and sometimes it’s blatantly obvious.
Generally speaking with an allergic reaction your kid is likely to become a red and wheezy mess covered in vomit, and if you’re like us, you’ll have to carry an epipen with you in the house bag to remedy these symptoms asap.
If they are intolerant to something they are likely to just be cranky, smelly, tired and more agitated with a sore guts (indistinguishable from the result of a full day at the grandparents house).
Doctors and allergen specialists can use a simple skin prick test, blood tests, diet histories and/or get you to record a food diary to accurately diagnose your child. That way you don’t need to get all Dr Libby on their ass and prematurely avoid giving them certain foods unnecessarily. Plus, seeking professional medical advice (as opposed to Aunty Google advice) when it comes to this stuff will make you an all round better parent in the eyes of basically everyone.
If the Doc confirms they have an allergy, it’s pretty much tough titties from there. Unfortunately there is not much you can do except for avoidance. However, there are some experimental desensitisation studies going on at the moment, but realistically the most promising ones won’t be commercially available for a few more years. Some are encouraging parents to introduce trace amounts slowly over time (eg a single peanut ground up in a smoothie or full batch of baking) to build up tolerance. Personally I’ll be parked up outside A & E if I ever tried this out.
If you don’t officially have an allergy, try not to avoid certain foods. Avoiding foods can end up in unnecessary nutrient deficiencies and can often be a more expensive way to eat, as well as reduce the guts ability to digest these proteins causing all sorts of trouble down the line.
So are we just getting soft?
I’m pretty sure our parents generation survived on bread, fish and full cream cows milk. So what’s with all the gluten free, egg free, lactose free, freakishly allergic kids nowadays?
About 1% of adults and less than 10% of children are ‘at risk’ of allergic reactions to foods.
It’s actually only a small number of foods that are responsible for around 90% of food allergies. I like to refer to them as the “Fine Print Five”.
The Fine Print Five
- Milk (Lactose)
In today’s society it’s actually easier to avoid these foods more than ever. How you ask?
Food labelling. It is a legal requirement that food manufacturers list the most common allergenic foods on their labels. They must also be in bold. These include milk, egg, soy, peanut, tree nut, sesame, fish, shellfish and gluten-containing grains, including wheat. But to cover our asses we often say “may contain traces of” blah blah. For example, our Cottage Pie (low allergen meal e.g no dairy, gluten or egg) is cooked in the same kitchen as our other meals that have fish, and pasta (gluten) and milk, so although we take great care to reduce cross contamination, we can’t be 100% perfect all the time. Soz.
So there you have it.
For more information:
- Allergy New Zealand offers advice and support to allergy sufferers: www.allergy.org.nz
- Coeliac New Zealand: www.coeliac.org.nz
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand – Food Allergies page: www.foodstandards.govt.nz
Disclaimer: Please consult a Dietitian or Doctor if you think you or your child has an allergy. You will receive advice specifically for you.
Nikki’s note: FYI we breastfed for 14 months, ate peanut butter on toast most days in pregnancy and breastfeeding AND she still got a peanut allergy. Shout out to her Dad for passing on the eczema, asthma, hayfever gene which is thought to be a contributing risk factor also. Woop woop.