I continue to question and am continually asked, what is going on? Why are so many Australian adults and children diagnosed with food allergies and intolerances each year, with numbers rising?
It’s a topic that sits close to me; I devote hours of research to it and something discussed daily in my professional life.
All we need to do is take a short stroll through a supermarket and look around, the aisles are filled low-allergen or allergy-free foods. It’s a common and serious matter, so much so that our packaged foods must state and highlight an ingredient if it’s a known allergen; and many childcare centres and play groups enforce a ban on allergens in lunchboxes and on menus as part of their health and safety guidelines.
Medical research suggests that maternal diet can play a part when it comes to children born with food allergies. Some studies have shown that children have a greater chance of allergy diagnosis if a mother hasn’t included a balanced amount of suspected allergens in her diet during pregnancy and soon after birth. Although further research needs to be done before this becomes the rule, mothers-to-be can consider it good advice to include a wide variety of foods in their diet and include common food allergens, as many are very nutritious.
There is also strong evidence to show an individuals microbiome can determine their state of wellbeing and susceptibility for allergens and intolerance. To put it simply, a microbiome is the essential bacteria that exists within our body and primarily in our gut. The ‘good bacteria’ is governed by healthy lifestyle with exposure to prebiotics and probiotics through foods and acquired through environment. A newborn babies microbiome can be enhanced and encouraged through healthy maternal diet, breastfeeding and vaginal birth delivery; all of which deliver the perfect quantity and quality of bacteria for a small developing gut. Limiting the exposure to antibiotics and processed foods will also support the microbiome for adults and children.
Here are the most common Q & A ‘s I receive relating to Food Allergies and Intolerances:
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1. What is food intolerance and what are the symptoms?
2. What should you do if your child is intolerant to food?
3. How does food intolerance differ from a food allergy?
4. What are the symptoms of a food allergy?
5. What should you do if your child is allergic to food?
6. How can you make sure they still get a nutritionally complete diet?
7. Are food allergies and intolerances common in Australia?
8. What advice can you offer clients with these conditions?
1 – Food intolerance is a chemical reaction that occurs after eating and drinking certain foods, whereby the body doesn’t ‘like’ or can’t ‘tolerate’ the food ingested and displays an unpleasant reaction to it. A wide range of symptoms can occur include: skin rashes, bloating, gas, headaches, migraines, upset stomach (diarrhoea and or constipation), wheezing, sweating, palpitations and irritability.
2 – If your child displays uncommon or unpleasant symptoms after eating certain foods, it’s best to avoid offering the food and to speak with a health practitioner. A registered nutritionist or GP can help distinguish what food/s may be causing the symptoms (if it’s not an obvious conclusion for parents), and recommend further treatment or testing. Nutritionists can also recommend suitable food alternatives so that your child doesn’t miss out on essential nutrients by avoiding foods.
3 – Food allergies are an immune response and can be critical if left untreated. Most food allergies can be detected with allergy screenings/tests. Allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis (airways closing) and can be fatal. Food intolerances are not an immune response and will not show up on an allergy screen/test. Food intolerances aren’t as critical; however can cause severe discomfort and further illness if left untreated.
4 – Symptoms can include skin rashes, swelling and burning sensation around the mouth and vomiting, usually within the first half hour after consuming allergen foods. Other symptoms include runny nose, hives, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, breathing difficulties (including wheezing and asthma), and nausea.
5 – Because of the severity of some allergic reactions, it’s important to seek medical help immediately. Remove the food from the child to prevent further exposure and go to your medical centre, or call 000 if it’s an emergency. Children who have a severe allergic response will be given medication to help control and ease the symptoms. Allergy testing will be recommended and it will be necessary to avoid exposure to the food.
6 – Fortunately today we have access to a variety of highly nutritious foods; therefore if one food type needs to be eliminated from the diet we can recommend other foods that will supply adequate nutrients. In a scenario where many foods need to be avoided, there is the option to supplement the diet with vitamins and minerals, as well as maintaining a healthy varied diet.
7 – Allergies and intolerances are very common and numbers are on the rise in Australia. Approximately 2% of Australians, including 1 in every 10 infants, have food allergies. The exact number of Australians with food sensitivities is unknown, but lies somewhere between 20 – 75%. Because food intolerances can often be mistaken for other conditions, correct medical diagnosis can be tricky and therefore statistics waver.
8 – My advice to clients does differ depending on the circumstances, however in most cases where a child has had a positive test to a food allergen I offer support and guidance including important dietary advice, education with food label reading (one of the most effective tools to identify food allergens when food shopping), education to know the signs and symptoms of a mild – moderate food allergy reaction and the actions to take, food safety tips to avoid cross contamination when preparing foods, plus access to a library of hardcopy and online resources and networking groups.
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