Living with Food Allergies

According to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), 3 percent of U.S. children have some form of food allergy. The percentage is higher (6 percent) for those children age three or younger; in about half of children with food allergies, they resolve by age three. The most common food allergies in children are to eggs, peanuts, and milk. Other common food allergens include tree nuts (such as walnuts), soy, shellfish, fish, and wheat. When a child with food allergies is also overweight, it may be more challenging to alter what and how much he's eating. In some cases, particularly when a child has multiple food allergies and significant dietary restrictions, it's not hard for parents to get into the habit of letting him splurge on those foods he can have, which can result in eventual weight gain.

Linolenic and alpha-linolenic acid are two essential fatty acids found in fish and eggs that convert to the omega-3 fats. These two fatty acids are associated with heart health and protect against high tri-glyceride levels. Vegetarian and vegan children require a good alternate source of linolenic acid, which can be found in flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.

On a positive note, if your child has food allergies, you are already used to being vigilant about checking labels and asking questions in restaurants about how dishes are prepared. These good habits will work to your advantage in helping your child improve his daily diet.

Working towards weight loss or maintenance when your child has food allergies is not a simple or easy process. Adding new foods, and new foods she likes at that, has to be done with the utmost care, yet expanding her options is often the key to preventing overload on those not-so-healthy foods she currently eats too much of. If your child isn't very active, focusing on increasing exercise first may be a good strategy while you work out food options with your healthcare team.

As you change your dietary patterns, you may be introducing new foods into your child's diet. Be aware that on nutritional labels, many food allergens are listed by different names which may not be obvious. For instance, “natural and/or artificial flavoring” on the ingredient list could indicate the presence of tree nut flavoring. A registered dietitian can help you learn the lingo of labels and build a dietary plan that will promote weight loss or maintenance for your child without endangering her health.

While Americans don't consume soy by itself in large quantities, soy and soybean derivatives are used as ingredients in an overwhelming number of baked goods, sauces, soups, chips, and more. Because it is such a common prepared-food additive, eliminating it can significantly alter the nutritional balance of a child's diet if special care is not taken. If your child has a soy allergy and you haven't done so already, consult with a registered dietitian to find out how to keep his meals balanced while avoiding soy.

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