Are you concerned that your child has a food intolerance?
Unlike food allergies, an intolerance can go undiagnosed for months or even years after symptoms set in.
But the good news is that identifying and addressing an intolerance can make a huge difference to your child’s wellbeing.
Allergies vs intolerances
A food allergy involves a direct response from the immune system. The immune system sees that specific food as a threat to the body, and mounts an immediate response. A food allergy reaction can be severe and even life-threatening.
On the other hand, food intolerances or sensitivities are more subtle. Symptoms can take hours or even days to surface and can vary from person to person. In some cases, it depends on the amount you’re consuming. You might be able to eat half a serve of a particular food and feel fine, but a full serve can trigger your symptoms.
A food intolerance is not caused by a direct immune response. Instead, it is about your body’s ability to properly digest, absorb and process that specific food. For example, lactose intolerance is due to a lack of the digestive enzyme to break down lactose.
The symptoms of food intolerances
Different intolerances can lead to different symptoms. But some of the common symptoms that are associated with food intolerances include:
- Digestive symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, gas or tummy pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Fatigue or low energy levels
- Poor sleep or insomnia
- Behavioural issues such as sudden mood swings or tantrums
- ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity
- Dark circles under the eyes
It is also common for food intolerances to go hand in hand with other childhood conditions including eczema, asthma, ADHD and autism.
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is worth exploring whether a food intolerance is to blame.
Common food intolerances in kids
The most common food intolerances I see in children are:
- Gluten intolerance
- Lactose intolerance
- Casein intolerance
- Fructose intolerance (known as fructose malabsorption)
- FODMAP intolerance
- Intolerance to food additives such as artificial colours and sweeteners
Other intolerances your child might experience include caffeine, salicylate and histamine intolerance.
Some children may have just one type of intolerance.
But as intolerance is linked to impaired gut health, it’s common for kids to have multiple food intolerances.
This is where it can be hard as a parent to identify what is causing the problem.
What to do if your child has a food intolerance
How can you manage your child’s food intolerance effectively?
There are some steps you can take, even if you’re not 100% sure what the intolerance is.
Support your child’s gut health
Many parents think that if you remove the problem food, it will fix everything. But like many health concerns, food intolerances start in the gut. So if you’re not addressing that cause, your child could develop more food issues over time.
There are many steps that you can take to improve gut health. But when it comes to kids, I always recommend starting with:
- Reducing the amount of refined sugar and processed foods in their diet
- Adding more plant foods, particularly vegetables
These two steps will help to encourage a good balance of gut bacteria and support the overall digestive process.
Include a variety of wholefoods to cover their nutrient needs
Whenever you’re removing a food group from the diet, you want to make sure you’re not also removing their only source of vital nutrients! That’s why you’ll want to add in plenty of wholefoods that contain essential vitamins and minerals.
This is a common concern for parents of children with dairy intolerances. Replacing the calcium your child gets through dairy is simple enough if you’re including wholefoods.
For example, you could use some sardines to make fish patties to add around 300mg of calcium. Or try using tahini to make a dressing or add it into bliss balls – 2 tablespoons of tahini contains around 120mg of calcium.
Work with a qualified nutritionist
As food intolerances are more subtle, identifying them by yourself can be tough. That’s why your best bet is to work with a practitioner who has experience with children and food intolerances.
An experienced nutritionist will be able to narrow down the likely intolerances based on your child’s diet and symptoms. They can then guide you through an elimination diet and give you tailored advice on feeding your child a nutritious diet.
If your child has already been diagnosed with a food intolerance, a qualified nutrition expert can also give you guidance around how to ensure your child is getting plenty of the essential nutrients.
Do you suspect your child has a food intolerance? Need some guidance with how to identify and manage their diet? Get in touch with me and I can help you on your journey!