Food sensitivity is a common problem in adults as well as children. The incidence of food sensitivity seems to be on the rise among children. The estimated prevalence of this condition in children is about 5% to 10%.
If not identified and treated promptly, the damage caused to the gut due to food sensitivity can put the child at risk of developing gut symptoms like bloating, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, or even inflammatory bowel disease. It may also elevate the risk of learning and behavioral disorders such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), ASD, IBS, eczema, and growth issues.
This marks the importance of addressing food sensitivity in children and learning the best ways to manage it.
What is Food Sensitivity?
Food sensitivity refers to an immune reaction triggered by the intake of specific foods. Some common symptoms of food sensitivity include stomach pain, joint pain, fatigue, skin rashes, and brain fog. Gluten is one of the common triggers of food sensitivities. Although the symptoms of food sensitivity are not life-threatening, they can sometimes disrupt the routine activities of the child and cause health issues.
Food intolerance develops when the child has a deficiency of certain digestive enzymes, such as lactase, which digests milk. This means the child may experience digestive troubles such as pain and discomfort in the stomach, nausea, stomach upset, bloating, and loose motions after consuming the food he or she is sensitive to.
Common Food Sensitivities in Children
The common forms of food sensitivities in children include:
- Casein sensitivity that occurs due to the inflammatory response of the body to the casein protein in milk and protein powders containing whey protein.
- Gluten sensitivity that can trigger an immune response. Gluten is a protein found in whole grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten sensitivity is also linked to the risk of developing celiac disease in children, although not all children with gluten sensitivity develop this condition, as they may have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
- Sensitivity to food additives such as sulfites that are used as preservatives in canned foods and dried fruits.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG), which occurs naturally in some foods such as tomatoes and is added to foods like parmesan cheese and soy sauce to enhance flavor.
- Natural chemicals such as salicylates that are produced by plants as a protection against disease and insects. Salicylates are also found in vegetables, fruits, teas, coffee, nuts, honey, and spices.
Other common food sensitivities in children include aspartame, amines, caffeine, eggs, yeast, food coloring agents, and sugar alcohols.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Food Sensitivity in Children?
Children develop the symptoms of food sensitivity when their immune system triggers an abnormal reaction to specific foods.
Some common symptoms that point to the possibility of food sensitivity in children include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gas and bloating
- Stomach pain and cramps
- Diarrhea and or constipation
- Irritability, restlessness, and nervousness (usually from caffeine sensitivity)
- Brain fog
How to Determine if a Child Has Food Sensitivity?
The symptoms of food sensitivity need to be differentiated from those of food allergy in order to get the right diagnosis.
Food sensitivity and food allergies are caused by different biological processes and are diagnosed and treated differently. The root cause of food sensitivity and food allergies is immunological dysfunctions.
However, the symptoms of these two types of food reactions are often similar.
Here are some factors that can help you differentiate between food allergies and food sensitivity and determine if your child has food sensitivity.
- Affects the child’s digestive system.
- Is triggered by an immune reaction.
- Causes symptoms that typically occur within a few hours to a few days of eating the food.
- Causes symptoms that are related to digestion, such as stomach upsets, nausea, vomiting, and bloating, as well as general health such as fatigue, eczema, joint pain, and brain fog.
- May not cause any symptoms if the child has eaten a very small amount of that food.
- Is usually not life-threatening.
A food allergy:
- Involves the child’s immune system.
- Occurs due to the abnormal response of the immune system to a protein or any other ingredient in food.
- Triggers an allergic reaction that causes symptoms of allergies such as swelling of the face, shortness of breath, itching, and skin rashes.
- Causes symptoms that occur within a few minutes of consuming even a small quantity of allergy-inducing food.
- May cause a severe, life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Parents can consult a functional medicine expert to learn more about the best methods to determine whether their child has food sensitivity and how to manage it.
Management of Food Sensitivity in Children
1. Diagnosing Food Sensitivities
Your functional medicine expert would recommend one or more of the following methods to determine whether your child has food sensitivity and identify the possible food triggers that are causing your child’s symptoms:
- Your functional medicine expert will ask you a series of questions related to your child’s eating habits and how long after eating the symptoms occur in order to determine whether food sensitivity could be the cause of your child’s symptoms. Sometimes, they will ask you to maintain a food diary to help identify the culprit foods.
- You can also take the FIT Test to identify food sensitivity. It is a highly accurate food test that uses patented technology to identify food sensitivity. Our FIT test follows a multiple pathway approach, which allows us to measure the whole immune system and looks at not only food sensitivities but also inflammation, candida overgrowth, and gut permeability (leaky gut) all from one test. Measuring these multiple pathways enables us to eliminate false positive results commonly associated with IgG-only food sensitivity testing.
- Your physician may also recommend diagnostic tests, including blood tests, esophagogastroduodenoscopy, or colonoscopy. Esophagogastroduodenoscopy and colonoscopy involve passing a tube through the mouth and anus, respectively. These tests can help the doctor view the mucosa of the stomach and colon and assess the extent of damage.
- Blood tests, Percutaneous skin testing (skin prick test), and patch testing may be used in some cases if the symptoms are suspected to be linked to food allergies.
2. Elimination Diet
An elimination diet can be used to identify foods your child is sensitive to.
This diet involves removing foods that are suspected to cause the symptoms of sensitivity from the child’s diet for a period of time. Later, you reintroduce those foods one at a time and watch out for the development of symptoms of sensitivity to work out which food might be causing the symptoms.
Keeping a food diary to make a note of the food your child is eating and the occurrence of symptoms is highly recommended while following the elimination diet.
3. Tackling Root Problems
Once the specific foods that cause your child’s symptoms are identified, your functional medicine expert will first develop strategies to avoid the intake of those specific foods and help your child avoid the symptoms.
First, avoiding the intake of foods containing ingredients that trigger the symptoms of sensitivity is the most critical aspect to help with the sensitivities
Your functional medicine expert and functional nutritionist will make sure that your child doesn’t develop any deficiencies while avoiding sensitive foods. They will guide you on portion sizes and recommend supplements if needed. They will provide you with a list of foods your child needs to avoid as well as the alternatives and substitutes for those foods to help you make informed decisions.
For example, children who suffer from gluten sensitivity may be advised to eat gluten-free grains like quinoa and rice. They will also go through a list of cross-reactive foods with you to make a successful program for your child.
5. Working on Gut Healt
Many times, food sensitivities could be related to poor gut microbiome and increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Your functional medical practitioner will organize a stool gut microbiome test to find out more about your gut microbiome, digestion, and absorption. Based on these results and your child’s clinical symptoms, they will make a gut-healing program so that your child’s sensitivities and health issues get better.
6. Functional Nutrition Counseling
Your functional nutritionist will create a healthy nutrition plan for your child. The diet plan typically includes nutritious foods that can support your child’s growth and development and heal the gut. They will also educate you and your family on how to choose the right foods for your child and other aspects of managing food sensitivity, such as learning about healthy food substitutions, cross-reactivity, and reading ingredient labels.
In some cases, gut healing supplements may be needed to improve gut health, lessen the symptoms, and improve recovery.
Your child’s functional medical expert will give you tips regarding your child’s nutrition limitations and what you can do to avoid or manage the symptoms of food sensitivity.
Helpful Tips for Managing Food Sensitivity
To help parents navigate the daily challenges of managing food sensitivity in children, I have put together some practical tips:
- Keep a food diary: Tracking what your child eats and any symptoms they experience can help pinpoint specific triggers.
- Read labels carefully: Learn to identify ingredients that may be problematic for your child and choose suitable alternatives.
- Plan balanced meals: Work with a professional to create a well-rounded diet that supports your child’s growth and development.
- Educate your family: Ensure everyone in the family understands the dietary restrictions and can support your child’s needs.
- Seek expert guidance: Consult with a functional medicine expert or healthcare professional for a personalized treatment plan.
By implementing these tips, you can proactively manage food sensitivity in your child’s daily life and improve their overall health and well-being.
Food sensitivity is a common problem in children. It is possible to manage food sensitivity and avoid the complications associated with it by following a functional medicine approach, which is aimed at identifying and eliminating specific foods and choosing a healthy and nutritious diet.
Now that you’ve gained valuable insights into food sensitivity in children, it’s time to take action. If you suspect your child may be dealing with food sensitivity, don’t hesitate to consult a functional medicine expert or a healthcare professional. They can help you find the root cause and create a personalized plan for your child’s health needs. Your child’s well-being is of utmost importance, and seeking expert guidance is a crucial step in their journey to better health.