Are Food Sensitivities Affecting Your Child?

The saying, “one man’s food is another man’s poison” is very true.  If you continue to eat something that is “poison” to you it will affect your health, cognition, energy, and cellular integrity.  For a school-aged child this can translate as learning difficulties and behavioral problems.  For you, as the parent, this can mean frustration with doing homework and repeat trips to the principal’s office to hear what “little Johnny” did this time.

There is a difference between food allergies vs. food sensitivities / intolerances

So What’s the Difference In Allergies Versus Sensitivities?

Food allergies are not as common as food sensitivities.  Food allergies are much more life-threatening and immediate.  These are the instances you hear of a child being exposed to peanuts and then dying because of the exposure.  Most children with true allergies know they have allergies and know they must avoid their allergic foods.  Sensitivities, or intolerances, on the other hand are much more subtle.  A child may have an underlying food sensitivity that manifests as:

  • behavioral problems
  • stomach aches and bloating
  • constipation
  • headaches
  • darkened circles (“allergic shiners”) under the eyes
  • skin rashes and itchy skin
  • eczema
  • runny nose
  • asthma

Sensitivities are repeat exposures that slowly begin to disrupt the delicate membranes of the digestive tract making them hyperpermeable and compromising their integrity.  This repeat exposure leads to an activated immune response and subsequent inflammation which leads to a vicious cycle of continued damage.  This happens every time a child consumes their intolerant food.

Testing For Food Sensitivities

Testing for food sensitivities is not as straight forward as testing for true food allergies (which again are not as common as sensitivities).  There are blood tests and saliva tests that can be used to test for IgG and IgA antibodies for suspected food intolerances.  However, these tests can yield many false positives and false negatives leading to inconclusive information.

The best way to test for intolerances, and still considered the “gold standard”, is an elimination followed by a gradual reintroduction of foods with observation of symptoms.  In our office we use a 3-week elimination of the following items:

  • Dairy – cow’s milk products, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, cream, yogurt, butter, ice cream, frozen yogurt
  • Grains / Starches – all wheat products: most breads, many desserts, cereals, crackers, pasta, certain soups
  • Nuts / Seeds – peanuts and peanut butter
  • Vegetables – creamed vegetables (dairy)
  • Oils – butter (dairy)
  • Condiments – soy sauce and teriyaki (may contain wheat)

These are the “for sure” avoidance foods that must be eliminated during this 3-week period.  In many cases, especially with severe symptoms, we will also eliminate the following:

  • Fruits – oranges and orange juice
  • Dairy Substitutes – soy milk products
  • Grains / Starches – spelt, kamut, barley, rye, corn and corn products
  • Animal Protein – eggs, shellfish, beef, pork, processed meats such as cold cuts
  • Vegetable Protein – soy products (soy sauce, soybean oil, tempeh, tofu, soymilk, soy yogurt, textured vegetable protein)
  • Vegetables – high glycemic index vegetables
  • Oils – margarine, spreads, store-bought salad dressings, mayonnaise
  • Drinks – all soda pop or soft drinks, especially caffeinated ones
  • Sweeteners – white/brown sugars, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup
  • Condiments – ketchup, relish, chutney, barbecue sauce, chocolate

We provide parents with a very thorough guide to help them through this process.  While it may seem overwhelming at first the elimination really is just reducing the most potential allergens and “junk” processed foods.  The diligence in complying with the diet is well-worth the potential benefits.  I have personally witnessed children with multiple symptoms such as chronic ear infections, bloating, asthma, ADD, ADHD, and asthma have complete resolution of symptoms by identifying their underlying food sensitivity.

Reintroducing Foods

Once you have completed the 3-week elimination of foods the next step is a gradual reintroduction.  It is important to slowly and methodically add the foods back in so you can ascertain whether there are any adverse events.  An adverse reaction can be any variety of complaints, but in general is a flare-up of the original symptoms that were better when on the elimination diet.  For example, if your child suffers with eczema and their skin clears up on the elimination diet, yet when you add gluten back in their diet their skin breaks out again, then you know there is a gluten sensitivity.

Here are some reintroduction keys to remember:

  1. Add only one new food back every 48 hours.
  2. If there is an adverse reaction to a food, wait until symptoms subside before adding any additional foods back in.
  3. Continue avoiding the food that you had a negative reaction to.

I strongly encourage you to keep a food journal to track which foods you are adding back and when so it is easier to coordinate symptoms with recent food intake.  Food sensitivities can occur up to 72 hours after the ingestion of the offending food.

An effort for this 3-week elimination and reintroduction can reap tremendous rewards in the health and scholastic performance of your child.  I would encourage you to try this elimination diet as soon as possible and then plan daily menus accordingly.

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