How to know if your child has a food intolerance (not to be confused with food allergy)?
I have rather a lot of experience and knowledge of food intolerance. Not just professionally but also personally. In this article, I give you the most common reasons that children experience the symptoms of food intolerance.
You will be given the signs to look out for – some of which may surprise you!
You will also find out what to do if you suspect your child has a problem. From going to the GP to getting a private test done.
You need to know this first
Food intolerance is not to be confused with a food allergy. An allergy is a full-blown, immediate immune response. This can be life-threatening. Those with a food allergy (i.e. peanut allergy) must completely avoid the food and carry medication to counter the effects of accidental consumption.
If you suspect a food allergy (and you will know) then it is likely to have been an emergency. A food allergy will be diagnosed and treated by your GP/Consultant. It is unusual to seek private help with regards to a true food allergy; however, a nutritionist can help you plan your diet if you need to exclude a food.
What is a food intolerance?
Cases of food intolerances have been on the rise in recent years, especially in young children. Personally, I have my views on this, which I won’t go in to here (it involves the gut ecology) and there are many who feel it’s rather ‘fashionable’ to be intolerant! Speaking from experience there is nothing ‘trendy’ about having to avoid certain foods. It can be incredibly isolating, anti-social, embarrassing, costly, time-consuming and incredibly inconvenient!
When I see babies and children there is often a common theme that makes them more likely to be susceptible to food intolerance.
- Family history
- Born by C-Section
- Early exposure to cow’s milk (i.e. formula feeding in the first 6 weeks)
- Mother’s health during pregnancy (stress is a major factor)
- Severe tummy bug or food poisoning at an early age
- Use of antibiotics
- Colic or reflux (also a symptom)
- Eczema and/or asthma (also a symptom)
Your baby or child may have many of the symptoms below or just one or two.
- Bowels: loose stools, constipation, undigested foods, unusual colour of stool, blood in stool, mucus in stool. Basically, anything that just isn’t normal (normal is light brown sausage shaped stool!)
- Urinary: bed wetting, the constant need for the toilet
- Digestion: reflux, tummy pains, bloating, noisy stomach, offensive gas, lots of gas, solid tummy
- Skin: rashes, redness, dry skin, eczema, dark circles under the eyes
- Immune System: excess mucous, constant cough, susceptible to illness, recurrent ear, nose & throat infections, croup, asthma, chest infections, hay fever
- Physical: rocking, rigid/stiff, repeated actions (like tapping constantly), clumsiness
- Sleep: disturbed sleep
- Mood: tearful, overwhelmed, severe mood swings, emotional, angry, perceived as naughty, link with ADHD, anxious, unhappy
- Growth & Development: failure to thrive, low weight, not hitting usual milestones
- Energy: big swings in energy
Quite often a parent will say to me “my child just doesn’t seem quite right or settled”.
There is a HUGE emotional link with food intolerance and this can affect behaviour and mood. There is a big link between the gut, mind and immune system.
What to do?
Write a food diary. If your baby is younger than 6 months and you are breastfeeding then keep a diary of your food intake. Note the symptoms along with the food diary. Food intolerance can give a delayed onset reaction so symptoms can sometimes take a couple of days to show.
Can you see a common theme?
If you are concerned or worried about your child always see your GP or speak with your Health Visitor.
An exclusion diet can be carried out for 2 weeks. I would highly recommend you get help with this. You could exclude any food you’ve noticed from the food diary then reintroduce it to see any changes. The most common culprits are dairy, wheat, gluten, egg, and soya.
The most common food allergens are as follows:
Cow’s milk, Wheat, Gluten, Yeast, Egg, Cashew nuts, Garlic, Soya, Brazil nuts, Almonds, Corn, Hazelnuts, Oats, Lentils, Kiwi fruit, Chilli, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds, Peanuts
Allergy UK has classified the following list of symptoms:
Aches and pains
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Restless Leg Syndrome
There are various ways to get tested although the NHS does not support or recommend private food intolerance tests.
I personally use both kinesiology (muscle testing) and IgG blood testing. Children cannot be tested via the IgG route until they are 2 years which is why I also use muscle testing. The elimination diet is the best option but it is difficult to do and time-consuming.
A private blood test will usually involve taking a small blood sample via a pinprick of the finger. This can be traumatic for some children and often you will need to see a nurse to get an adequate blood sample. The blood is then sent to the lab and is tested for an IgG immune response against a panel of foods.
Some consider this test to be unreliable, however, in my experience I find this test to be incredibly useful.
If you would like more information about testing please contact me directly.
How to manage a child’s diet
If you have concluded that your child needs to avoid a food then you will need to make sure that their diet compensates for this. This is particularly important with regards to dairy foods. Someone like me, a Registered Nutritional Therapist, can help you with this.
Food intolerances are not necessarily a life sentence. Most children and babies I see just need some digestive and immune support. On occasions, other therapies may be used to boost their systems or correct any imbalance. Removing the food in the short term can allow healing to take place. Most children are able to reintroduce the food some weeks, months or years later.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT EXCLUDE ANY FOODS/FOOD GROUPS FROM YOUR CHILD’S DIET FOR LONGER THAN 2 WEEKS WITHOUT PROFESSIONAL ADVICE AND HELP.
For help or advice with regards to food intolerance please contact Julie at www.julieclarknutrition.co.uk
Julie is a Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in family health. She studied nutrition at Thames Valley University and graduated with a BSc in Nutritional Medicine.
Julie’s book Baby Led Weaning Step by Step was published in 2014. Her interests lie in helping babies get the best possible dietary start as well as specialising in fertility, pregnancy, children’s health, baby led weaning, fussy eating and Mum’s well-being.
Her busy clinic is based in Whitstable, Kent where she lives with her husband and two children.