Food allergies among the child population are on the rise. A study conducted by the CDC released in 2013 showed that food allergies among children had increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. As nannies, it is important to have basic knowledge of food allergies for your charges’ safety.
Before I get to some helpful food allergy facts, we need to differentiate between a true food allergy and a food intolerance. A true food allergy occurs when a fraction of a food protein or other large molecule is absorbed into the blood and elicits an immunological response. Essentially, the body reacts to the molecule as though it is an ‘invader’ and produces antibodies, histamines and other defensive agents. With any true food allergy the tiniest amount can cause an immediate reaction. These types of responses are considered to be IgE-mediated food allergies. There are also a growing number of non-IgE mediated food allergies among children. Most commonly known among non-IgE allergies is Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES) and Celiac Disease. The big difference between the two types of allergies is that IgE-mediated allergies generally have an immediate reaction, while non-IgE mediated allergies have symptoms that develop over time and may not be caught right away.
Food intolerances do not involve an immune system reaction. Symptoms of food intolerances also tend to show gradually rather than immediately. A common example of a food intolerance is Lactose Intolerance. Many people can have small amounts of lactose without causing potentially life threatening reactions.
Now that we know the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance, here are a few fun facts I bet you didn’t know about food allergies!
1. The top 8 food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soybeans, fish and shellfish. Among these, eggs, milk, soy and peanuts are the most often cause of food allergies in children.
2. Only 6-8% of children younger than 4 years old are diagnosed with true food allergies (remember, they are different from food intolerances).
3. When introducing a new food to a child you should let at least 2 days elapse between the introduction of one new food before going on to the next. This allows time for any clinical symptoms of an allergic reaction or intolerance to appear.
4. But when should you start introducing solid foods? For an infant that comes from a family with a strong family history of food allergies, solid foods should not be given before 6 months of age. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics there is now evidence that shows delaying the introduction of solids, thought to be highly allergenic, is in fact less beneficial. However, every child is different so it is best to consult your doctor for individual recommendations.
5. Breast Milk may actually offer protection against food allergy developments. Breastfed infants have a lower incidence of allergic reactions (such a recurrent wheezing, skin rashes, etc.) when compared to formula-fed infants.
6. Fun fact – Genetics and food preparation methods may actually be factors contributing to the rise of peanut allergies. Roasting peanuts at very high temperatures makes them allergenic.
7. If you’re shopping for a child with food allergies, the food label is your new best friend. Manufacturers are required by law to list the presence of all top 8 common food allergens on food labels. For example, if a product contains textured vegetable protein, it must state “contains soy” on the label. Usually you can find this right under the ingredients list.
8. There are many ways for a food allergy reaction to manifest itself. It can be as mild as an itchy mouth or small rash, or as severe as anaphylaxis (typically this occurs with a number of symptoms including an itchy rash, swelling throat, and low blood pressure).
9. Beware of airborne allergens when cooking at home. Make sure a child with food allergies keeps a safe distance from the cooking area and allow the air to clear for at least 30 minutes before the child enters the room. Depending on the severity of the allergy, the airborne particles could elicit a reaction.
10. Lastly, a food allergy can begin at any age. Knowledge of family allergen history as well as a basic knowledge of food allergies and reactions can go a long way!
Food allergies are a growing concern among children in recent years and the research and evidence is ever-changing. Because of this it is important that we keep ourselves up to date and knowledgeable so we can keep our children or those in our care at their healthiest. Below are some great resources for both you and your children to learn more about food allergies:
If you’re interested in learning more about nutrition, please check out and pre-register for our Child Nutrition class today.
Kristin Speikers graduated from Framingham State University with a BS in Food and Nutrition. She is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist. Currently she is transitioning from working as a Dining Services Assistant Manager at Boston College to working in the purchasing department. In her free time, Kristin enjoys reading and taking walks outside.