Getting your child to eat healthy foods can be a challenging task. And allergies can make the situation worse, as your kid might be missing out on some essential nutrients. So, are you worried that your child may be allergic to certain food products? Read on to know all about allergies and how you can choose food substitutes! These substitutes can help meet the nutritional needs of your little one, without posing any risk.

Understanding food allergies in children

A child is exposed to several allergens throughout his life. The allergens can be ingested from the air he/she breathes or from food. The allergic reaction happens when the immune system creates antibodies to fight the allergen. The reaction results in the release of a chemical called histamine, which triggers allergic symptoms that can affect various bodily functions. Around 5% of children under the age of 5 years have food allergies, some of which may last a lifetime.

Difference between food allergy and food intolerance

Although there are some similarities in symptoms, food allergy is not the same as 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.

Symptoms of food allergy

Once the food is ingested, the symptoms may begin immediately or within an hour, and might include the following:

  • Hives
  • Eczema
  • Coughing
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Cramps
  • Swelling
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Itchy, watery or swollen eyes
  • Tightness of throat
  • Breathing problems
  • Wheezing

Symptoms like skin rashes, uncontrolled sneezing, and breathing problems, are often confused with seasonal changes or pollen allergy. It is important to note that the symptoms can be an allergic response to the food recently consumed by the child. It needs very little amount of food to start a deadly allergic reaction, and hence it is important to know how to recognize it when it happens. Remember that is such situations, every second counts, and you need to be prepared and inform your doctor immediately.

Common allergens found in India

Peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, tree nuts, and fish, are the most common foods that cause allergic reactions and account for around 90% of the food allergies. Common food allergens found in India are as follows:

  • Peanuts – Peanuts, groundnuts, and any food item containing these ingredients, can cause a severe allergic reaction in some children. It can last a lifetime in some cases. Common symptoms include runny nose, skin reactions, digestive problems, and breathing problems.
  • Milk – Cow’s milk allergy, also known as cow’s milk protein allergy, is commonly observed in Indian children. The allergy is directed towards casein and whey proteins in cow’s milk. The allergy affects the digestive system, causing symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating etc. Most children outgrow cow’s milk allergy after a certain age, but some of them might continue to suffer even as adults. Cow’s milk can be substituted with other forms of milk, like almond milk, rice milk etc. However, these substitutes are not nutritionally the same. Children who drink other kinds of milk may need to adjust their dietary intake to fulfil nutrient gaps of calcium and protein that may arise. Your child might also be allergic to milk products like cheese, paneer, khova etc. However, some children can tolerate fermented milk products like curd and buttermilk.
  • Eggs – Egg proteins like ovomucoid, ovalbumin, and conalbumin, can trigger an allergic reaction in some children. Some of the allergens can be destroyed by cooking the eggs. Eggs can be substituted with yoghurt and plant alternatives. You can also try other sources of protein like pulses, fish or meat.
  • Fish – Fish proteins can sometimes trigger an allergic reaction in some children, and cannot be destroyed by cooking. In such cases, you can try alternative protein sources like eggs, dairy products, meat, pulses, etc.
  • Tree nuts – Nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashew, and pistachio can cause severe allergic reaction in some children.
  • Shellfish –Shrimps, lobsters, crabs, and oysters are part of the daily diet in many coastal districts in India. But, an allergy to these can cause a severe reaction. Other protein sources like egg, chicken or meat can be given to kids in this case.
  • Soybean – Some children cannot digest soy protein. The symptoms in this case are similar to milk allergy. Soy protein can be substituted with any other animal protein like meat, fish or egg. Food products that include beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts should be avoided too.
  • Wheat – Wheat allergy is caused by an immune-mediated allergic response to wheat protein, while the child might be able to tolerate other grains. Wheat can be substituted with other flour products like millets. However, it is important to remember that semolina, maida, pasta, bread, and other wheat-containing products need to be removed from the child’s diet.
  • Sesame (til) – These seeds are commonly used in India and can be replaced with other substitutes, like flax seeds, pumpkin seeds etc.
  • Fruits and vegetables – They usually cause mild symptoms that can be resolved by heating the fruit or vegetable before consumption.
  • Spices – Spices of different kinds are commonly used in Indian dishes, but a few can cause allergies. The allergic reaction is usually mild, but can be severe in some children. Spices that cause allergy can be substituted with herbs or other spices, which provide similar flavours or aromas. Spices like mustard, coriander, and garlic can cause food allergies.
  • Corn – This allergy can be caused by corn-based food products. However, a wide variety of substitutes is available for corn. Corn or corn-derived products like baking powder, semolina, caramel, and vanilla extract need to be avoided.

Allergy symptoms are often very similar to symptoms of other medical conditions. So, always consult the child’s doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Although there is no cure for food allergies, certain measures can be taken to prevent serious health consequences.