The Standard American Diet (SAD) is the term used to refer to the pattern of foods that most people eat in the United States and other westernized countries. This diet is high in processed, pre-packaged foods that are often loaded with sugar, salt, fat, preservatives, emulsifiers and other additives, chemicals, pesticides, etc. It is also relatively low in fruit, vegetables, and fiber, and lacks a diversity of nutrients, while being high in unhealthy types of fat, meats, and refined carbohydrates. The SAD is associated with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and almost every other modern chronic illness.
One of the silver linings of food allergies is that it forces us to read ingredients and see what is actually in our food. This can really be eye-opening. We consume a lot of food in this country that is detrimental to our health. Most people choose convenience and taste over health and nutrition. We are now paying the price with higher rates of chronic disease and whole generations of children who are dealing with a multitude of chronic conditions. One day we are going to look back on the foods that we are eating today the same way that we look at cigarettes and we are going to wonder how anyone ever thought it was a good idea.
A healthful diet is good for anyone but it is absolutely essential for children with food allergies. Because their diet is already limited by their food allergies, it is so important that they eat a nutrient-dense diet with as much diversity as possible. Every meal is important, make them all count. Children with food allergies are at risk for nutritional deficiencies which are associated with decreased school performance, delayed bone age, and increased susceptibility to infections.(1) Children with food allergies typically have heights and weights within the normal range but are often smaller for their age than children without food allergies, even when they received similar diets.(2) This suggests that children with food allergies need even greater emphasis on eating a healthful and nutrient-dense diet.
Here are 7 tips to ensure that your child with food allergies is eating a healthful diet that supports their health, growth, and overall well-being:
- Eat plenty of fresh whole foods. Make sure your child is getting plenty of fruits and vegetables. Look for organic and antibiotic free when possible to avoid exposure to irritants that may disrupt the immune system. One way to do this is to cook more meals at home using whole food ingredients. You know, the way grandma used to do (assuming your grandma knew how to cook ;)).
- Make sure your child is getting adequate amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating the immune system and is a key player in many chronic conditions, including autoimmune disorders and possibly food allergy. Both, too little vitamin D and too much vitamin D have been associated with food allergy.(3) One way to increase your child’s vitamin D level is to let him or her go outside to get exercise and sunshine. Our bodies need sunlight to synthesize vitamin D. Of course, you can also find vitamin D in fish, fortified products like dairy, and vitamin D supplements. If you think you or your child needs a Vitamin D supplement consult with your physician or dietitian to make the determination. While you don’t want too little, you also don’t want too much.
- Eat plenty of omega-3 fats. Dietary fats such as omega-3 fatty acids also play an important role in regulating the immune system. A decrease in consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is a possible contributing factor to the increase of food allergy.(4) You will commonly find omega-3 fatty acids in fish, fish oil, and grass-fed beef. You can also find omega-3s in flax seeds, chia seeds, and spinach. Walnuts and edamame (soybeans) also contain good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids but unfortunately, like seafood, these two are not allergy-friendly. Avoid hydrogenated oils and other highly inflammatory fats.
- Eat a rainbow of foods. One way to ensure that you are getting a variety of antioxidants such as vitamins C, vitamin E, selenium, carotene, and other vitamins and minerals is to eat fruits and vegetables of all different colors. Reduced antioxidant intake from fresh fruits and vegetables is believed to be a contributing factor to the rise in allergic disease by increasing susceptibility to oxidative
stress and allergic inflammation.(5) If you are unable to get in a variety of foods, speak to your physician or a registered dietitian about supplementation.
- Eat less prepackaged foods. Eating less processed foods decreases your risk of cross-contact during the manufacturing process but it also decreases your exposure to harmful food additives. Food additives, particularly emulsifiers like carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) and polysorbate 80 have been found to lead to increased inflammation of the intestines.(6) This may increase the risk for metabolic disorders like diabetes, autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s, and allergic disease like food allergy.
- Eat more fiber. Dietary fiber and fermentable carbohydrates act as prebiotics and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria that we need to break down our food, reduce gut permeability and reduce the risk for developing food allergies. The decrease in dietary fiber intake associated with refined modern foods is thought to be a contributing factor to inflammatory diseases of all kinds, as well as allergic diseases.(7) Many cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts are high in dietary fiber.
- Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi, are natural probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial living microorganisms. Generally speaking, homemade fermented foods contain many more live cultures than commercial products. You can, however, purchase fermented foods from the store or buy probiotic supplements. Talk to your physician or dietitian to determine which probiotic supplements might be best for you, if you decide to go the supplement route.
You don’t have to overhaul your diet all at once. Small sustainable change goes a long way. I invite you to choose one healthy food to add into your family’s diet this week to get you started. If you think your diet is lacking in any nutrients, be sure to consult your physician or registered dietitian to help you pinpoint your needs. If you have any questions or would like support around establishing healthful eating habits and sticking to them, feel free to drop me a line. I would love to hear your thoughts on making nutrition a priority–feel free to leave a comment below.
1.Marion Groetch, “Dietary Management” in Food Allergy Practical Diagnosis and Management. ed. Scott Sicherer. (Boca Raton FL: CRC Press, 2014). 171.
2. Marion Groetch, “Dietary Management” in Food Allergy Practical Diagnosis and Management. ed. Scott Sicherer. (Boca Raton FL: CRC Press, 2014). 171.
3. Xiumel Hong and Xiaobin Wang. “Early Life Precursors, Epigenetics, and the Development of Food Allergy.”Semin Immunopathol 34, (2012): 655-669.
4. Xiumel Hong and Xiaobin Wang. “Early Life Precursors, Epigenetics, and the Development of Food Allergy.”Semin Immunopathol 34, (2012): 655-669.
5. Susan Prescott, The Allergy Epidemic: A Mystery of Modern Life. (Crawley, Western Australia: UWA Publishing, 2011), 101.
6. J Suez, et al. “Food Preservatives Linked to Obesity and Gut Disease.”Nature 514 (2014): 181-186.
7. Susan Prescott, The Allergy Epidemic: A Mystery of Modern Life. (Crawley, Western Australia: UWA Publishing, 2011), 103.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not a replacement for seeking medical or nutritional advice from a medical doctor or registered dietitian. I am not a doctor nor am I a registered dietitian.