Food allergy, or hypersensitivity, is an abnormal response to a food
that is triggered by the immune response. The most commonly affected
organ systems and their symptoms include:
- Skin: hives, rashes, eczema
- Mouth: swelling of mouth, tongue
- Digestive tract: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps
- Respiratory tract: wheezing, asthma
In contrast, food intolerance is more common and the immune system is
not responsible for the symptoms even though the symptoms resemble those
of a food allergy. The problem lies with the body's ability to digest
the food, usually due to a chemical deficiency.
For example, difficulty digesting milk (lactose intolerance) due to
lactose deficiency. Lactase is the enzyme required to digest milk sugar
(lactose), hence deficiency causes abdominal discomfort and diarrhea
after taking milk. However, people with food intolerance often can still
tolerate some amounts of the offending food without experiencing
Reduce risk of allergies
To reduce the risk of your child developing food allergies, do not
introduce solid foods till four months of age unless medically
indicated, e.g.; if your baby has failure to thrive or has iron deficiency
anemia. Some may even encourage introducing solids to baby at 6 months.
It is prudent that a limited variety and quantity of the least
allergenic foods are introduced first in the following progression.
- Rice-based cereal
- Pureed root vegetables (potatoes, pumpkin, carrots)
- Pureed fruits (apple, pear, banana)
- Other vegetables (spinach, broccoli)
- Meat (pork, beef, lamb)
Only one new food should be introduced at a time and wait a few days
before introducing another food. This is to enable identification of the
offending food should there be any adverse reactions.
If you suspect your child has a food allergy, the first step is to
keep a diet and symptom diary - write down everything that your child
eats and drinks, and note down any symptom to occur. Speak to physician
to evaluate the suspected food allergy. This may require certain tests
to be done to investigate and diagnose the allergy.
Is there a "cure" for food allergies ?
There is no "cure" for food allergies other than the strict avoidance
of the offending food.
- Careful meal planning is important to ensure nutritional
adequacy. Consult a doctor or dietitian about how you can make
substitutions for a varied and balanced diet.
- Read food labels carefully for "hidden" food allergens.
For example, eggs are common ingredients in mayonnaise, salad
dressings, cakes and ice-cream; similarly wheat flour is commonly added
to certain foods (such as processed meat products, gravies, canned or
dried soups, malted milk drinks) as "fillers". In addition, ingredients
may be listed as other names, so you will need to familiarize yourself
with names of ingredients. The table below lists some of the common
variations of milk, egg and soy.
|Casein / caseinate
||Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
|Whey / whey solids
||Ovo - mucin / globulin
||Textured vegetable protein
|Hydrolysed milk protein
|Lacto - globulin / albumin
|Butter solids / fat