Spring is sprung, and fresh, warm air is on the horizon! During this time of year, seasonal sniffles, sneezes and itches may get your child down. Otherwise known as allergies, these afflictions may be environmental or even food-related and capable of impacting kids’ nutrition. Neha N. Patel, MD, with the Center for Allergy & Immunology, reports that about 5-10 percent of children have a food allergy, with the top food allergens being peanuts, milk and eggs.
Food Allergies 101
A food allergy reaction happens when the immune system attacks a food protein it perceives as a potential threat to the body. Food allergy symptoms include swelling, itching, stomach pain, nausea or vomiting. If you are concerned your child may have an allergy, Dr. Patel states parents should, “seek specialist advice for further evaluation from a board certified allergist.” Avoiding the allergen has been the treatment mainstay if your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, according to Patel. However, she says oral food immunotherapy has shown promising results and is now available. Read on to discover savvy swaps to some of the more common food allergens you can make to ensure your KC child has healthy, beneficial meal options.
Top Food Allergens
Milk: The most common food allergy seen in children is to dairy, and the only treatment includes avoiding cow’s milk and foods that contain it, such as milk powder, cheese, butter, margarine, yogurt, cream and ice cream.
Easy & Simple Healthful Substitution: Soy, coconut, rice, potato, oat, almond, hazelnut, cashew, hemp, flax, sunflower and even macadamia are non-dairy cow’s milk alternatives. Most of these offer yummy flavors such as vanilla, chocolate and mocha.
Eggs: An egg allergy is the second most common food allergy among children. Interestingly enough, one can be allergic to egg whites but not egg yolks and vice versa.
Easy & Simple Healthful Substitution: Choose to integrate egg alternatives in your cooking and baking. The alternative you choose will depend on the egg’s function in a particular recipe. For instance, Pat, a Leawood mother of three, goes for tofu when seeking a scrambled egg option. “All you have to do is saute and slightly smash the tofu to achieve the desired look of a scrambled egg dish. I use tofu in my morning breakfast skillets for my kids, layer some veggies and herbs over it, and they eat it up.”
Peanuts: Peanut allergies have increased markedly. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, the number of children with a peanut allergy in the United States more than tripled between 1997 and 2008.
Easy & Simple Healthful Substitution: Sunflower butter and soy butter are optimal alternatives for peanut butter, offering a smooth, creamy taste with a bit of a crunch. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds can also be used as replacements for peanuts.
Tree Nuts: A tree nut allergy is a sensitivity to certain nuts and seeds that come from trees, including almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pistachios, walnuts, Brazil nuts and walnuts. Those who deal with this allergy are advised to abstain from all types of tree nuts, even if they are only allergic to one or two types of nuts. This is because being allergic to one type of tree nut enhances your risk of developing an allergy to another type of nut.
Easy & Simple Healthful Substitution: Reach for crunchy granola or crisp rice cereal. These crunchy munches not only provide a grainy texture, but will also deliver hearty taste. Especially in baking, dried fruit, such as cranberries, cherries, dates or raisins are other optimal replacements.
Soy: This type of allergy is cause by a protein in soybeans or soybean-containing products. Such products include soy milk and soy sauce.
Easy & Simple Healthful Substitution: Almond milk is the most popular nut milk that you will likely see at the grocery store. Hazelnut and cashew are other common nut milks made without soy, and coconut milk is a classic alternative when you’re seeking to be soy-free.
Wheat: A true wheat allergy causes an immune response to one of the hundreds of proteins found in wheat. Avoiding wheat isn’t always as simple as it sounds because it hides in foods as varied as ice cream, hot dogs and even soy sauce.
Easy & Simple Healthful Substitution: Swapping bread and flour tortilla for corn tortillas is a great option.
Amy Hundley is a registered dietitian nutritionist, licensed in both Kansas and Missouri, and a published freelance nutrition writer. She is currently practicing as a clinical RD and has been a resident of Olathe since early childhood.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.