My maternal life is the inspiration behind this blog post. Kudos to my Mummy friends for reminding me of this! My little girl has a milk allergy – nothing life threatening, but we do have to be aware of the content of every single bit of grub she puts in her mouth. And we’re not alone: one of my daughter’s little buddies has an egg allergy. Needless to say, it’s something that forms an important part of our lives, both when we’re on ‘mum duty’ and when we’ve got our ‘work hats’ on. Many others are in the same situation: according to Allergy UK, 1 in 12 young children in the UK have some form of food allergy. Hence why I thought it might be handy to go over the basics… and potentially be of some help to fellow mummies and daddies in similar situations.

First things first: what exactly is an allergy? An allergy is when the body reacts to a protein present in, for example, food, insect stings or pollen, or an antibiotic. These substances, or ‘allergens’, don’t affect most people but, for some reason, in allergy sufferers, it triggers the immune system to react. This reaction may take one of three courses:

The above scheme is based on the Milk Allergy in Primary Care (MAP) guidelines and so specific symptoms will vary according to the allergen and type of allergy, but the same ‘IgE, non-IgE or IgE+non-IgE’ principle applies across the board. The MAP website provides further information on specific symptoms of cow’s milk allergy and the recommended course of action with each type of reaction.

Other foods that children are commonly allergic to include peanuts, tree nuts (e.g. walnut, almond, hazelnut, cashew and pistachio), eggs, wheat and fish. Packaged food
in the UK and rest of Europe has to be clearly labelled – for example, in bold or underlined – to indicate whether it contains any of the following allergens:

  • Gluten
  • Crustaceans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites
  • Lupin
  • Molluscs

More info can be found here.

Just to be clear, an allergy is different to an intolerance: symptoms of food intolerance would generally not be life-threatening (although they may overlap with symptoms of food allergy), such as stomach ache, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation, eczema or joint pain, and the reaction would not be mediated by the immune system.

There are national (NICE) guidelines for health practitioners regarding the procedure to be followed if it is suspected that your child has an allergy. There is a wealth of information out there on how allergies, food-related and otherwise, are diagnosed (e.g. skin prick tests, blood tests and eliminating/reintroducing suspected foods) and if/how to go about reintroducing the allergens under the guidance of a health professional. See Allergy UK and Action Against Allergy for further details.

How you cope with your child having an allergy depends, of course, on what he/she is allergic to, the severity of the reaction and whether you are trying to reintroduce the allergen or not. Of course, foods such as molluscs and fish seem, at least on the face of it, simple to avoid. As a keen baker (that’s code for ‘I really love cake’) and mother of a child with a VERY healthy appetite, I found it really useful to explore cow’s milk alternatives. That way, I could continue to cook a variety of goodies whilst also going some way to ensuring that my little one made up any nutrients missed from avoiding cow’s milk. I imagine the same would be the case with wheat and egg, which are also staple ingredients when whipping up munchies, for parents and sprogs alike. See below!

Cow’s milk alternatives


Milks

  • Extensively hydrolysed (where the milk proteins are broken down into short chains) or amino acid formulas (where the milk proteins are fully broken down) available on prescription, where clinically indicated.
  • Rice milk (e.g. ‘Alpro’, ‘Rice dream’, ‘Rude Health’ and supermarket own brand). Not suitable as a main drink for children until they are aged 4.5years
  • Other alternatives include almond (‘Alpro’, ‘Rude Health’ and supermarket own brands), soya (‘Alpro’, ‘So Good’, ‘Sojade’ and supermarket own brands), hazelnut (‘Alpro’, ‘Provamel’), hemp (‘Good Hemp’), oat (‘Oatly’ and ‘Alpro’) and coconut (‘Alpro’ and ‘Koko’) milks. Look out for calcium-fortified versions – usually non-organic ones.

Yogurts

  • Yogurt alternatives are commonly based on soya (‘Alpro’, ‘Provamel’, ‘Sojade’ and supermarket own brands) or coconut (‘Koko’ and ‘Coyo’)

Cheese

  • Cheese alternatives are commonly based on soya (‘Sheese’, ’Cheezly’ and supermarket own brands), tofu (‘Tofutti’) or coconut (‘Koko’, ‘Violife’ or supermarket own brands).

Ice cream and desserts

  • Alternatives are commonly based on soya (‘Food heaven’ and ‘Swedish Glace’), coconut (‘Pudology’, ‘The Coconut Collaborative’ and ‘ZenZen’) or oat (‘Oatly’)

Wheat alternatives

  • Flour or products, such as pasta or breadsticks/crackers, made from rice, buckwheat, almond meal, coconut, corn/cornstarch, millet, potato, pea, quinoa or soy.

Of course, in many of these cases, you can also eat the grain/product whole.

I know, I know, some of the aforementioned foods are sickeningly fashionable (buckwheat and quinoa, I’m looking at you)… but, for those people who can’t tuck into ‘regular’ bread, pasta or cakes, these options may make all the difference.

Egg alternatives

To make something rise, e.g. cake batter, 1 egg =

  • 1½ tablespoons water + 1½ tablespoons oil + 1 teaspoon baking powder

To bind something, e.g. cookie mixture, 1 egg =

  • ½ mashed banana
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 3 tbsp warm water
  • ¼ cup applesauce

Or use a commercial egg replacement product and follow packet instructions. This can be used as a raising or binding agent.

 

Of course, in addition to the above alternatives, reading food labels is a skill that must be mastered by any parent of an allergic child. This is particularly pertinent for those allergic to soybean, egg and milk, as these little blighters seem to try to disguise themselves as covertly as humanly possible in any sort of packaged food.

I take solace thinking (hoping) that some readers may have become a little wiser from this mish-mash of information. Or at least have their interest lightly tickled. My daughter’s milk allergy has actually caused me to learn a great deal, although hopefully that learning curve will stop pretty pronto as she grows out of it (I jest, of course). And for those of you with no allergies in your lives, you may even feel inspired to spice up your culinary creations with some of the aforesaid alternatives?!

Foodtalk offer Managing Allergies training for nurseries and childminders.  For more information please contact us on info@foodtalk.org.uk 

Natasha Schoeler

Natasha is a Research Dietitian. She previously completed her PhD on the genetics of response to the ketogenic diet and is keen to follow a career combining clinical paediatric dietetics and ketogenic diet research.

 

All Foodtalk blogs are written by a variety of health and care professionals to showcase different views in nutrition.

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