The Real Risks of Having Multiple Food Allergies

Several risks exist when you have multiple food allergies. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Food allergies are a fairly common health challenge for many people today. Overall, up to 15 million people live with a food allergy. But some people have the added burden of living with more than one food allergy, a condition called multiple food allergies. For example, having an allergy to tree nuts, peanuts and milk would be classified as having multiple food allergies.

Some allergens are commonly paired or clustered together such as milk and soy allergy, and peanut and tree nut allergy.

Living with more than one food allergy presents its own set of challenges, from growth problems in children to potential nutrient deficiencies in all individuals.

If you are living with more than one food allergy, take note of the potential nutritional risks associated with multiple food allergies:

Restricted diet

Naturally, a food allergy requires elimination of the offending allergen from the diet. So, if you are allergic to milk, all milk and milk products must be removed from the diet. The same goes for all of the common food allergens-- and even the not-so-common ones. The food allergen and all foods and products made from it must be avoided.

Avoiding certain food allergens, such as milk or egg, may significantly restrict the variety of food that is eaten. Low food variety may lead to nutrient deficiencies and poor growth in children.

Limited nutrients

As mentioned above, avoiding certain foods and food groups may place some nutrients at risk.

If you are milk allergic, then calcium and vitamin D may be at risk if alternative sources of calcium and vitamin D aren’t included in the diet. If egg is out of the diet, you may risk several nutrients if you’re not careful to choose replacement foods. The same goes for wheat allergy. The bottom line is this: you need to know about the ‘at risk’ nutrients for your food allergy and find other foods that can provide adequate amounts of these nutrients in your diet.

Poor eating

Multiple food allergies may contribute to poor eating, especially in children. Disinterest, boredom, fear of an allergic reaction, and the normal stages of childhood eating, such as picky eating, can affect appetite and a willingness to try new food. Poor eating is associated with inadequate calories and nutrients, and poor growth. One way to avoid this is to make sure a wide variety of foods are offered and meals and snacks are offered routinely so that interest in food and opportunities to eat are available.

Inadequate calories

Poor eating, overall, can lead to inadequate calories. Inadequate calories in the adult can lead to weight loss. The same is true for the child: not enough calories can lead to weight loss and delays in growth and development.

Food boredom

Another risk associated with multiple food allergies is eating the same “safe” foods day in and day out. While this is an important tool for managing food allergies—sticking with safe foods and steering clear of potential allergens-- this gets boring!

Food boredom can cause poor eating, inadequate nutrient intake, poor nutritional status, and weight disturbances.

Poor growth

In children, multiple food allergies are a known risk factor in the development of nutrient deficiencies and inadequate growth. Particularly, food allergies including milk, wheat, egg and soy appear to be the most troublesome for children. For this reason, regular check-ups with the pediatrician to evaluate growth and development, and routine involvement of a registered dietitian and food allergist are advised to prevent these adverse outcomes

Medical problems

In addition to the above potential consequences associated with multiple food allergies, long-term medical conditions can develop when the diet is poorly managed. For example, leaving out alternate bone nutrients when a milk or soy allergy exists can lead to poor bone health and a vitamin D deficiency. The antidote? Finding other sources of calcium when a milk allergy exists, and paying particular attention to vitamin D foods and getting reasonable sun exposure.

The good news is that all of these possible negative outcomes related to multiple food allergies can be prevented. With a variety of foods, adequate nutrients, and sufficient monitoring by your health care team, multiple food allergies can be managed healthfully. 

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