As mothers we always worry about our children’s growth and diet- are they eating enough, am I giving them the right amount of nutrition, does this food not suit them…. The last one is a question that keeps coming up that needs to be addressed a little more in detail. Does this food not suit my child? This could mean a variety of things- it could be as serious as your child being allergic to that food, to them having a little more difficulty digesting it than other foods, to something as simple as them not liking the taste of it! It is important for us to understand the difference between these and respond to them accordingly, so you’re able to address your child’s need correctly.

Although there are some similarities in symptoms, food allergy is very different from food intolerance. Food intolerance is the child’s inability to tolerate certain foods like lactose, resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms. On the other hand, food allergy is an immune response of the body towards an allergen.

An excellent example to illustrate these differences is Milk- a true milk allergy differs from milk protein intolerance and lactose intolerance. Unlike milk allergy, intolerance doesn't involve the immune system. Lactose intolerance tends to become more pronounced when a child grows up, but milk allergy can develop within the first year of a baby’s life.

The common signs and symptoms of milk protein intolerance or lactose intolerance include digestive problems, such as bloating, gas or diarrhoea, after consuming milk or products containing milk. Milk allergies, on the other hand, result in much more serious symptoms. Once ingested, the symptoms may begin immediately or within an hour, and can include the following: hives, eczema, coughing, hoarseness of voice, vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, swelling, itchy, watery or swollen eyes, tightness of throat, breathing problems and wheezing. There are two main proteins in cow's milk that can cause an allergic reaction: Casein, found in the solid part (curd) of milk that curdles and Whey, found in the liquid part of milk that remains after milk curdles; children may be allergic to only one milk protein or to both.

Lastly, it is not uncommon for many children to simply dislike the taste of milk and react emotionally, rather than physically when forced to drink milk. A simple way to distinguish if it’s a matter of preference or intolerance is to see how they react to milk products like cheese, yoghurt, paneer etc. if they have intolerance, they will not be able to digest any milk product, not just milk.

Now that we understand the differences, here are some practical tips on managing these if your child suffers from food allergies, intolerance or strong dislikes:

  • For confirmed food allergies, always remain vigilant, ensure your child does not eat food from an unknown source, keep a close watch on outside food and packaged foods, and ensure everyone around him/her is aware of the allergy and knows what to do if an allergen is consumed.
  • For intolerance, you will need to adjust your child’s diet so that exposure to those foods is minimised and alternative sources of nourishment are available in the diet.
  • For children with strong dislikes, do see our articles on fussy eaters