Children's Food Allergies and Nutrient Deficiencies

It is hard enough to get your children to eat a balanced diet, but when you have a child with food allergies, it may be impossible. The fact is that kids with food allergies are at an increased risk of nutritional deficiencies, especially if they have multiple food allergies. Kids who might have allergies to milk, soy, eggs, and wheat are at the greatest risk for poor growth and deficiencies.

In order to help be sure your child gets what they need to remain healthy it is important to be aware of the nutrients that may be affected by the allergen. Below is a list of the top allergens and what nutrients they provide. By understanding what your child may be lacking, you can then find other food substitutes to meet their needs.

  • Milk: calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, pantothenic acid
  • Eggs: vitamin B12, folate, riboflavin, selenium
  • Soy: thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, folate, phosphorus
  • Wheat: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, iron, folic acid

Studies show that kids with milk allergies are at the greatest risk for failure to thrive, with poor bone growth and subsequently being shorter in height than their peers without food allergies. The kids also are often found to lack vitamin D, calcium, and protein. Kids with two or more allergies also have been found to also struggle with appropriate growth, due to lack of nutrients.​

After the diagnosis of the food allergy, it is important to learn what foods can be added to the diet to prevent potential deficiencies. Looking at the allergen specifically, appropriate food substitutes can then be added to the diet.

  • Milk Substitutes: Without milk in the diet, it is important to replace with calcium-rich foods. This can include non-dairy sources such as leafy greens, edamame, and fortified juices. Protein needs can be met by adding in foods such as tofu, poultry, or fish. When possible you should also add nondairy versions of milk, such as rice, soy, or almond milk as well as to provide additional nutrients.
  • Eggs Substitutes: Without eggs in the diet, it is critical to find other adequate sources of protein. Choose to add milk, meat, poultry, fish, and nuts to their diet. Milk can provide selenium and vitamin B12 as well. Folate found in fruits and leafy greens can also help keep your child out of nutritional risk. Kids with egg allergies tend to have to limit baked goods, so this may cause them to be lacking B vitamins and iron as well. This may cause an additional need for high-calorie foods and iron-rich foods, such as raisins or spinach.
  • Soy Substitutes: Soybeans provide one of the highest quality proteins in a child’s diet. However, if the child has a balanced diet, this restriction should not make a significant difference. The diet should include a balance of fruit, vegetables, enriched and fortified grains and proteins.
  • Wheat Substitutes: Wheat can be replaced with other grains in the diet, with things such as corn, rice, oats, and buckwheat. Wheat is often fortified with nutrients, but this same process occurs during the milling of other grains as well. As long as other enriched grains are a staple in the diet, needs can be met.

It is not just the nutrient deficiencies that are of great concern for those kids with significant food allergies. Kids with food allergies are often limited in food choices and thus take in less overall calories. For this reason, it is important to find nutrient-dense food choices, at meals and snacks, to be certain they meet their caloric needs. Finding allergen-free desserts, calorie drinks, and supplements may be necessary to avoid failure to thrive.

It is also important to recognize that those with food allergies often grow more cautious and fearful about trying new foods. Parents should be aware of any hesitation your child may be experiencing as a result of this fear. By working closely with your child to find new food substitutes and to also point out the importance of a healthy diet, you can help to avoid any permanent damage to their growth and overall wellness.

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