Like your parents before you, you probably have had dozens of conversations (or perhaps arguments) with your children about the importance of eating healthy meals. You find yourself sounding like a broken record week after week:
“You can’t survive on Fruit Loops forever!”
“Please eat your veggies.”
“Aren’t you going to drink your milk?”
“No TV time until you at least try your dinner!”
You worry their picky habits might stunt their growth. Are they getting enough vitamins? Minerals? Protein?
And then along comes a food allergy. Suddenly, instead of trying to get your child to eat a variety of foods, you’ve been instructed by the allergist to restrict your child’s food temporarily. Such a measure is called an elimination diet and can help pinpoint food allergies and intolerances.
In the end, you discover that your child is not allowed to eat a range of different foods on account of being allergic. Now what? How is your child going to grow up healthy and strong if some of the main food groups are no longer an option?
Exceptional Nutrition Despite Food Allergies
Here’s the good news: research has shown that an elimination diet is not likely to cause any problems in growth and development, even at the ages of 1 to 2 years when growth is particularly rapid.
The reason an elimination diet does not have an impact on nutrition is because vitamins, minerals and even proteins are present in a variety of sources. And for that same reason, even multiple food allergies are unlikely to cause nutritional deficiencies.
However, it’s important to be smart about your approach to nutrition. And actually, multiple allergies can be advantageous in this area, because you probably are putting more thought and research into what you feed your family now that you have a child who has been diagnosed with food allergies. Did you ever feel like you were doing okay before that diagnosis, perhaps as long as you vaguely provided a balance between the food groups?
Raise your hand if you do a lot more home cooking now that you have to contend with food allergies—it’s a common trend! The good news is that home cooking usually involves fresh, whole foods like vegetables, legumes, grains and unprocessed meats. When you cook from scratch with these ingredients, you know exactly what’s going into a meal. You don’t need to read and re-read labels or decipher odd ingredients, like you would if you tried to buy, for example, frozen or prepackaged meals at the grocery store.
As it happens, avoiding packaged and processed foods is exactly what doctors recommend for a healthy diet. Focusing on a diet composed of whole foods (in other words, unprocessed foods) means you avoid added sugar and fat. It also allows you to eat a lot of nutrients in the way they were intended to be: in concert with one another instead of in isolation. And the digestive system benefits from the extra fiber present in such foods.
If your child is allergic to dairy products and you worry about calcium, take heart. Calcium is also found in leafy green vegetables, and plant-based milks, such as almond milk, tend to have calcium levels even higher than those of dairy milks.
Perhaps the one nutritional obstacle that is difficult to overcome is that of omega 3 fatty acids in a child who is allergic to fish. There are three types of omega 3 fatty acids, one of which is found exclusively in fish. Consult your allergist about ways to ensure your child gets enough omega 3s in his or her diet. It is possible that pure sources of fish oil may be suitable, because allergens are proteins and not fats. Therefore, a fish oil supplement that has been confirmed to contain no traces of proteins/allergens may be safe to use. But talk to your doctor first!
In short, avoid feeding your child a diet composed of mostly “junk food” and he or she should suffer no stunted growth. But if you have specific concerns, talk to your allergist or a qualified nutritionist.