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Allergies

 

Star foods for allergies: almond, apple, apricot, blackcurrant, blueberry, bok choi, broccoli, brown rice, buckwheat, butternut squash, cabbage, cantaloupe melon, carrot, game, garlic, kale, millet, onion, pear, peppers, pumpkin and pumpkin seed, quinoa, salmon, sunflower seed, sweet potato

Allergies are becoming increasingly common in the Western world. Symptoms range from a constant runny nose to full-blown anaphylactic shock, which can cause death. Allergens, the substances that cause allergies, can come from the environment, such as pollen, dust and mould, or from foods, such as nuts. The same symptoms can be caused by different allergens. Similarly, individuals can react in different ways to the same allergens.

It is now estimated that as many as one in five children in the UK suffers from the allergic illnesses eczema and asthma. The countries with the highest rates of asthma in the world are the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US. The places with the lowest asthma rates are the Mediterranean countries, Eastern Europe and India. The question of why there has been such a rapid escalation of the problem in some countries in recent years is still subject to speculative debate. Some blame poor diet and environmental pollution. There is certainly no doubt that environmental pollution plays a part and that a diet low in antioxidants and vitamins will make a child more susceptible to allergies. However, introducing solid food to a baby too early can also increase the risk of allergies.

Another suggested explanation for the general increase in children suffering from allergies is the hygiene hypothesis. This states that our children's immune systems are not being primed as they used to be while very young because of our obsession with cleanliness and germ avoidance in the developed world. Whatever the reasons, allergy prevention has to be the focus for the parents of the future. Genetic inheritance does play a crucial role but there are ways, through diet, in which parents can delay and reduce the symptoms of allergies and intolerances should their children be susceptible to them.

Food allergy or intolerance?
The issue of whether your child is suffering from a food allergy or a food intolerance adds controversy and confusion to the allergy debate. A food allergy is defined by an immediate immune response. When food allergens enter your child's body, her immune system reacts by producing large amounts of the chemical histamine. It is the release of histamine that results in the allergic reaction with its recognizable symptoms. These are usually first noted in the facial area, with an itchiness around the mouth or swelling in the lips. This can be accompanied by a severe stomach ache, nausea, diarrhoea and/or rashes. Occasionally it can result in difficulty breathing, in which case urgent medical attention is required. The same common foods cause most of these allergic reactions: milk, wheat, eggs, soya products, fish, shellfish, nuts and sesame seeds.

A food intolerance manifests itself in a different way. Although there may be an immune response, this is not always the case. More often an intolerance appears as a delayed response to foods frequently eaten and is, therefore, far more difficult to detect or isolate. Symptoms of food intolerance include asthma, eczema, hyperactivity, migraine, skin rashes, glue ear, persistent runny nose, stomach aches, vomiting and diarrhoea, insomnia, bed wetting, fatigue, and aching muscles and joints. Food intolerances often occur in reaction to the foods most frequently eaten. Common offenders in this category are milk and wheat. Offering your baby or child a varied diet rather than relying too heavily on one or two basic foods is the best protection you can provide against intolerances.

Preventing allergies and intolerances in older children
After the age of one, your baby should be eating the same meals as the rest of the family. The golden rule for protecting children of all ages against allergies and intolerances is to provide plenty of variety in their diet. Intolerances are most likely to occur when foods are served up repetitively in different guises. For example, if a child is eating cereal with milk and toast for breakfast, followed by a pasta dish for lunch and sandwiches and yoghurts for tea, their diet consists predominantly of wheat and dairy - two of the most common triggers for allergies and intolerances. Experimenting with a variety of grains and dairy alternatives will prevent this from occurring. If you were to offer porridge for breakfast or a boiled egg with rye toast soldiers, followed by a rice dish at lunch and sandwiches for tea, you would only have used wheat once in the day and provided a much greater variety of nutrients.

If, however, your child is already showing symptoms of intolerance or allergy, remove the suspect food or food group for a month and see if the symptoms improve. If they do, the food can sometimes be gradually reintroduced to the diet in small amounts and your child may develop a level of tolerance for it. Strict food elimination diets involving more than one food or a food group should be carried out only under the guidance of a healthcare professional. This ensures that you are using suitable alternatives to these foods and food groups which will supply your child with all the nutrients that she requires.

For an allergic child, prepare foods rich in the anti-allergenic nutrients and antioxidants that support the immune system generally. The essential fatty acids found in evening primrose oil, linseed (flaxseed) oil and fish oils can be beneficial (as long as the allergy is not to fish) as these help to regulate and control the inflammatory response. Foods rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, flavonoids (especially quercetin), zinc, magnesium and calcium all help to protect your child against allergies because they contain a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. See the list of star foods for allergies for foods to include in your child's diet.

Protecting Babies against allergies
Until your baby reaches the age of six months, the best protection you can give her against developing allergies of any kind is to feed her a diet of breast milk only. Once she is six months old, start the weaning process but use this chart to see which foods are best avoided until a later stage so that they don't overburden an immature digestive system and trigger an allergy or intolerance. The foods marked with an asterix are those that can cause allergic type reactions.

6 months
At this age your baby can eat:

  • All vegetables except those listed under 9 months
  • All fruits except those listed under 9 and 12 months
  • Dried fruits (unsulphured)
  • Non-gluten grains: rice, millet, buckwheat, quinoa
  • Beans and pulses (except soya beans)
  • Organic poultry, game and meat
  • Fish* (except shellfish)

    9 months
    At this age your baby can eat:

  • Potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers
  • Gluten grains: oats, barley, rye, semolina (occasionally), corn
  • Soya products*
  • Ground nuts* and seeds*
  • Egg yolks

    12 months
    At this age your baby can eat:

  • Citrus fruit
  • Dairy products: milk*, yoghurt, cheese
  • Wheat: bread, pasta, flour
  • Whole eggs*

    2 years
    At this age your child can eat:

  • Strawberries
  • Shellfish*

    5 years
    At this age your child can eat:

  • Whole nuts*

    In addition you should avoid feeding your baby the following foods altogether, and keep them to an absolute minimum as your child grows up:

  • Salt
  • Additives found in processed foods and drinks
  • Hydrogenated fat
  • Stimulants, such as caffeine

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    Extracted from Immunity Foods for Healthy Kids by Lucy Burney, text 2004, published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London.

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