Scientific headlines reporting on the latest heath claim or what foods we should or should not be feeding our families can make your head spin. These pieces are made to be attention grabbing, cherry picking a particular soundbite, or focusing all its attention on the most dramatic statistic means we can often lose sight of the wider picture. But these stories and anecdotes can be particularly frustrating when you are looking for the facts on introducing foods to your baby. Particularly when it comes to allergies and intolerances.
The old tale
The status quo for a long time has been to avoid introducing potential allergens in the first few years of life. This was particularly the case for babies deemed high risk (i.e. those with close – first-degree relatives, with food allergies). It was common for mothers to be told to avoid top allergens during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding in order to prevent exposure. The avoidance of these foods was due to the belief that early intestinal exposure to allergenic foods would make the intestinal lining more sensitive, thus putting the child at a greater risk for lifetime allergies.
The new way
Over the last few years you might have seen some big headlines in the papers talking about how delaying exposure can actually increase the risk of developing allergies.
The latest quality research concludes that introducing allergens to a infant’s diet early on in the weaning process, around six months, may help prevent allergies. The main research has been done with early peanut exposure and a trial supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which found that “regular peanut consumption begun in infancy and continued until 5 years of age led to an 81 percent reduction in developing peanut allergies in infants deemed at high risk because they had severe eczema, egg allergy or both.”
So, introducing those high allergen foods early on, in the first few months of weaning, is now thought to be the way to go. However, it is strongly advised that parents with children with eczema and a close family history of allergies consult with your GP or paediatrician before trying any of these foods.
What are the top allergen foods?
- Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, prawns)
- Tree nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts)
Less common allergens
- Sesame (seeds, oil, tahini)
- Celery & celeriac
- Lupin flour & seeds
- Sulphur dioxide (sometimes known as sulphites) (This is an ingredient often used in dried fruit such as raisins, dried apricots and prunes)
How to introduce allergenic food
If you have no family history of food allergies and want to introduce one of these foods from around 6 months, here are my top tips:
- The advice to introduce a new food every two to three days does not apply to non-allergen foods, but it is a good idea to only introduce one potential allergen food from the above list, at a time, and leave a few days before trying another one. This makes it easier, if there are any symptoms, to work out what might have caused a reaction.
- Offer the potential allergen in the morning and do not offer any other new food that day. This way, if there is any reaction, you have the daytime to get help.
- Start with small servings. Use small doses so you can gauge your bay’s reaction to the food. For example, offer peanuts by placing a little sugar free smooth peanut butter on your finger or scrap a little on a finger of toast.
- Don’t give whole nuts. Whole nuts will be a choking hazard, especially if your child hasn’t developed the ability to properly chew yet.
- Avoid brands with added sugar/salt. Be sure to read the back of the label. There are plenty of brands made without added sugar or salt.
If you are worried at all contact your GP to discuss in more detail introducing these foods.
Know the allergy symptoms
Symptoms of food allergies typically appear from within a few minutes to 2 hours after a person has eaten the food to which he or she is allergic.
Allergic reactions can include:
- Flushed skin or rash
- Tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
- Face, tongue, or lip swelling
- Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- Abdominal cramps
- Coughing or wheezing
- Dizziness and/or light-headedness
- Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
If your child experiences any of the above systems, seek help immediately
Article by Alice Fotheringham,
Chef and Nutritional Therapist specialising in infant nutrition
Alice holds first foodie workshops in London; practical hands on cooking workshops learning about infant nutrition and the wide variety of different ingredients you can offer when introducing foods to your little one. For more information on her workshops and one on one consultations visit www.alicefotheringham.co.uk