Star foods for allergies: almond, apple, apricot, blackcurrant, blueberry, bok choi, broccoli, brown rice, buckwheat, butternut squash, cabbage, cantaloupe melon, carrot, game, garlic, kale, millet, onion, pear, peppers, pumpkin and pumpkin seed, quinoa, salmon, sunflower seed, sweet potato
Allergies are becoming increasingly common in the Western world. Symptoms range from a constant runny nose to full-blown anaphylactic shock, which can cause death. Allergens, the substances that cause allergies, can come from the environment, such as pollen, dust and mould, or from foods, such as nuts. The same symptoms can be caused by different allergens. Similarly, individuals can react in different ways to the same allergens.
It is now estimated that as many as one in five children in the UK suffers from the allergic illnesses eczema and asthma. The countries with the highest rates of asthma in the world are the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US. The places with the lowest asthma rates are the Mediterranean countries, Eastern Europe and India. The question of why there has been such a rapid escalation of the problem in some countries in recent years is still subject to speculative debate. Some blame poor diet and environmental pollution. There is certainly no doubt that environmental pollution plays a part and that a diet low in antioxidants and vitamins will make a child more susceptible to allergies. However, introducing solid food to a baby too early can also increase the risk of allergies.
Another suggested explanation for the general increase in children suffering from allergies is the hygiene hypothesis. This states that our children's immune systems are not being primed as they used to be while very young because of our obsession with cleanliness and germ avoidance in the developed world. Whatever the reasons, allergy prevention has to be the focus for the parents of the future. Genetic inheritance does play a crucial role but there are ways, through diet, in which parents can delay and reduce the symptoms of allergies and intolerances should their children be susceptible to them.
Food allergy or intolerance?
A food intolerance manifests itself in a different way. Although there may be an immune response, this is not always the case. More often an intolerance appears as a delayed response to foods frequently eaten and is, therefore, far more difficult to detect or isolate. Symptoms of food intolerance include asthma, eczema, hyperactivity, migraine, skin rashes, glue ear, persistent runny nose, stomach aches, vomiting and diarrhoea, insomnia, bed wetting, fatigue, and aching muscles and joints. Food intolerances often occur in reaction to the foods most frequently eaten. Common offenders in this category are milk and wheat. Offering your baby or child a varied diet rather than relying too heavily on one or two basic foods is the best protection you can provide against intolerances.
Preventing allergies and intolerances in older children
If, however, your child is already showing symptoms of intolerance or allergy, remove the suspect food or food group for a month and see if the symptoms improve. If they do, the food can sometimes be gradually reintroduced to the diet in small amounts and your child may develop a level of tolerance for it. Strict food elimination diets involving more than one food or a food group should be carried out only under the guidance of a healthcare professional. This ensures that you are using suitable alternatives to these foods and food groups which will supply your child with all the nutrients that she requires.
For an allergic child, prepare foods rich in the anti-allergenic nutrients and antioxidants that support the immune system generally. The essential fatty acids found in evening primrose oil, linseed (flaxseed) oil and fish oils can be beneficial (as long as the allergy is not to fish) as these help to regulate and control the inflammatory response. Foods rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, flavonoids (especially quercetin), zinc, magnesium and calcium all help to protect your child against allergies because they contain a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. See the list of star foods for allergies for foods to include in your child's diet.
Protecting Babies against allergies
In addition you should avoid feeding your baby the following foods altogether, and keep them to an absolute minimum as your child grows up:
Extracted from Immunity Foods for Healthy Kids by Lucy Burney, text © 2004, published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London.