Food Allergies and Growing: What Is the Connection?

While visiting your child’s school, you glance over and realize that your 9-year-old son is now one of the smallest in his grade. Perhaps your 12-year-old daughter seems to be growing slower than her younger sister. And maybe you shrugged it off and just figured it was a matter of time before they caught up. But now add in the fact that your child has food allergies, and you might want to stop and give it some further thought.

Did you ever consider that having food allergies can in fact impact your child’s overall growth? 

Studies reveal that children who have food allergies may be smaller than other children. And studies have also shown that children who are allergic to more than two foods were smaller than children who were only allergic to one or two foods. So rather than brush off that fact that your food allergic child is smaller than their peers or siblings, it is important to get a closer look at what you can do to ensure they are growing properly.

Prevention

If your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, or multiple food allergies, it is very important to be sure to discuss their nutritional needs and growth with their doctor. Having your pediatrician track their height and weight every three months will help to monitor any issues before they might consequently fall off their growth curve.

Keeping a food diary for a few days a month will also provide a more detailed look into their caloric and nutritional intake.

It can be beneficial to also share this information with an allergist or nutritionist, so that they may be able to provide additional guidance. These professionals can tell you what foods to add or include when managing an allergen-restricted diet, provide detailed information on label reading, and help ensure that your child continues to grow at a healthy pace.

Strategy

For kids with food allergies the best strategy is to look at their daily meal pattern, rather than focus on meal-by-meal choices. Looking at their patterns of eating will give more insight onto what nutrients they are getting and where they may need additional supplementation. As you review the list of foods, you can better understand what food groups might be devoid in their diet.

Some suggestions on reviewing their diet:

  • Make lists of foods your child can eat despite their food allergy. This will focus on the variety of foods they can actually enjoy, rather than on the limitations of their allergy.
  • Take the list of foods your child presently eats, and divide it into food groups. At meals help your child ton choose a food from each food group in order to improve their intake of a balanced diet.
  • Make note of both food favorites and new foods to try. Once new foods are tried they can be added to the regular list.  This will help your child to diversify their intake and expand the list of foods they are eating on a regular basis.
  • Continue to rotate foods so that your child does not get bored of certain foods and remains open to new options.

Understand the Allergen

It is important to understand what nutrients your child might be missing in their diet due to the fact that they are limited in food choices due to a food allergen. The guidelines below pertain to the top 8 most common food allergens, what nutrients may be missing and how you might substitute them in your child’s diet.

  • Milk - When allergic to milk, there is often a lack of protein and calcium. It is important to supplement with fortified milk substitutes, leafy greens and increase other protein foods. Calcium is a very important nutrient, so it is essential to find substitutes for this in particular. In addition to calcium rich or calcium fortified options, supplements are often indicated.
  • Eggs - When allergic to eggs, biotin, iron, folacin and Vitamins A,D,E, B12 are often low. By adding in dairy, leafy greens, enriched grains and other proteins, such as meat, fish and poultry this can boost their diet.
  • Soy - When allergic to soy, protein, iron, calcium, zinc and Vitamin B6 can run low. Protein foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, as well as vegetables, leafy greens and enriched greens all can serve as substitutes.
  • Peanuts and Tree Nuts - When allergic to these, protein and vitamins are often at risk of not being sufficient in the diet.  Adding in protein rich foods, as well as fruits, vegetables and enriched grains can better balance their intake.
  • Wheat -  When you have a wheat allergy it can leave your child deficient in B Vitamins and Iron. Adding in additional protein sources, leafy greens, fortified alternate grains, fruits and vegetables can serve as alternate sources.
  • Fish and Shellfish - When allergic to these, Niacin, Protein, Vitamins B6, B12, A and E can all be low in your child’s intake.  Instead add in protein rich foods, dairy, enriched grains and vegetables.

Sources:

Christie, L, HIne, RJ, Parker JG, Burks W.  Food Allergies in Children Affect Nutrient Intake and Growth.  J Am Diet Assoc. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12449289 2002 Nov;102(11):1658-51.

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