Dietitians key to helping kids cope with food allergies
Learning that your child has a severe food allergy can be unsettling. What may be even more stressful, however, is learning how to navigate your child’s new diet successfully. New research says getting a dietitian plugged into the process can make managing the allergy much more effective.
The new study published in the January 2015 issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology revealed that moms of children with food allergies were eager to understand how to balance a nutritious, allergy-free diet with maintaining a normal life for their child. The report went on to explain that moms found the practical advice and emotional support received by dietitians valuable.
Participants in the study included 17 moms of food allergic kids who sought dietary advice at an allergy clinic. Most of the moms found the time immediately after diagnosis the most anxious because they found the process daunting.
Parents need detailed, individual advice to ensure their children with food allergies are being fed safely and well. Dietitians make excellent sources and resources for this and work with parents to make sure they understand some key components.
“The first priority is to ensure parents know how to read the food labels,” explains Carrie Ek, clinical nutritionist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
She says thankfully this is much easier now with the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALPCA) of 2004, which covers the following major allergens:
- Tree nuts
This law also requires that the allergens be listed on U.S. Food and Drug Administration food labels in common terms such as milk vs. whey.
Another thing parents need to be keenly aware of is cross-contact, which requires using separate food utensils and keeping safe and unsafe foods from coming into direct contact with each other.
“Once parents have the tools to safely feed their child, the next step is to evaluate the diet overall,” says Ek, coordinator of Advocate Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Celiac Center.
She explains that it’s very common for the child’s diet to be deficient in calcium and often protein, especially if dairy is removed. “Most replacement “milks,” such as rice and almond milk are not adequate for children. Soy is a good substitute if tolerated,” she says.
Sometimes children with allergies can also be terribly picky eaters or even fearful of food, so Ek offers up the following suggestions: “We want to “normalize” their eating experience as much as possible. Ideally shared meals at home should be safe foods all the children can eat. Substitutions beyond the food allergy are not recommended as this can promote picky eating overall.”
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