Learning that a food may be the root cause of your child’s discomfort may bring both relief and uncertainty. Here we review three common food sensitivities and offer nutritious alternatives to help ease the transition for food sensitive families.
What is Food Sensitivity?
Food sensitivities in children may be linked to a number of delayed, mild to moderate symptoms, such as tummy aches, spitting up, diarrhea or constipation, chronic runny nose and cough, and eczema. Food allergies, on the other hand, most often encompass the immediate, moderate to severe reactions associated with food. If you are unsure about whether your child’s symptoms stem from allergy or sensitivity, it’s always best to talk with your healthcare provider.
As in food allergy, children with food sensitivity benefit from removing the offending food(s), however the severity of the reaction will determine the extent of dietary change required. Three of the most common food sensitivities include gluten, eggs, and cow dairy.
Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, but is also present in other grains such as spelt, barley and rye. Gluten sensitivity is not the same, as wheat allergy, which is a true food allergy, or celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease. Foods covered by the FDA labeling laws that contain wheat must be labeled “contains wheat”, and should be avoided by those with wheat allergy. In gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, gluten should be avoided.
Aside from obvious sources of gluten such as bread, many products contain hidden sources of gluten. Look for gluten in soy sauce, store-bought salad dressing, and granola bars. Some naturally gluten-free alternatives include rice-based products, such as crackers, rice cakes, and pasta (be sure not to over cook it as it can get soggy), high protein quinoa, and certified gluten-free oats, perfect for breakfast topped with berries and chopped nuts.
With the rise in people adopting a gluten-free diet, it is quite easy to find gluten-free pizza crusts, cookies, waffles, cakes, and baking mixes. Look for the words ‘gluten free’ or for a gluten free seal on the package to ensure that the product meets your family’s needs.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein. If you suspect a sensitivity and remove eggs from the diet, you will want to replace them with other high quality sources of protein. Alternative protein sources include organic lean meats, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, black beans), cow or goat dairy, tofu, nuts and nut butters.
In baking, eggs act as a binder, but can be replaced with ground flax. 1 egg is equivalent to 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed with 3 tablespoons of water, which is left to sit for 2 minutes. Alternatively, commercial egg replacement products are available.
In recipes like potato salad or chicken salad that call for mayonnaise (which contains eggs), consider vegan mayonnaise. You can also try mixing equal parts hummus and plain yogurt as a mayo alternative.
Cow Milk Dairy
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends beginning whole cow milk at one year. They recommend 2-3 servings of dairy per day for toddlers. Milk contains essential nutrients important for optimal growth and development. While cow milk protein allergy affects 2-3% of infants, cow milk sensitivity may be more common. The good news is that there are cow milk alternatives readily available in most supermarkets.
For children over the age of two, cow milk alternatives include nut milks like almond or cashew, soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk or goat milk. Goat milk formula* may be a solution for children under age two, once allergy has been ruled out. Every child’s taste preference differs, so you may need to try a few to see what they enjoy the most.
Milk substitutes may also be used in recipes in place of cow milk. Using unsweetened versions help to keep any added sugar to a minimum.
Alternatives to cow milk cheeses are also becoming more readily available and include various types of goat cheese*, and dairy-free vegan cheeses.
Cow milk yogurt alternatives include goat yogurt* as well as soy, coconut and almond milk yogurts. Pair it with some fresh fruit and gluten free granola for a great breakfast or snack. These alternative yogurts also work well in recipes calling for yogurt, sour cream or cream cheese.
Inspired Change for Food Sensitive Families
Getting children involved in what they’re eating is key to making lasting dietary changes. Bring your kids to the grocery store and farmers market to help pick out new foods. Let your kids help with preparation and cooking. Consider having the whole family on the same meal plan. This may help your child feel less singled out, and prevent mealtimes from becoming overly complicated.
Identifying food sensitivity, and making the subsequent dietary changes is a wonderful opportunity to teach your kids about nutrition, get creative in the kitchen, and feel well.
*Goat milk and goat milk products are not suitable for children with confirmed cow milk protein allergy.