National Nutrition Month – March 2013 by Deb Indorato, RD
“Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day” is the theme for National Nutrition Month 2013. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly The American Dietetic Association) created National Nutrition Month to increase nutrition awareness. This year's theme encourages personalized healthy eating styles, recognizing the many factors that influence individual choices.
Food allergies are a big factor that influences daily choices. Recent studies have demonstrated that children who have food allergies were found to be smaller than other children and those who were allergic to more than two foods were smaller than children who were only allergic to one or two foods. When you restrict two or more important foods, it is more difficult to obtain nutrients necessary for growth and development. Therefore, making sure your child's nutritional needs are met through a balanced diet is essential.
Parents of food allergic children should be prepared to discuss their child's food intake at each visit with the allergist. In preparation for the visit, keep a food diary for a few days. A food diary is a simple journal where you write down everything your child eats on a notepad. A food diary will help your child's allergist determine if important nutrients are missing from your child's diet or if you need a referral for a nutritional consultation from a registered dietitian.
Healthcare providers who specialize in food allergy treatment provide guidance on foods to avoid or include when food allergies are present. You should only make dietary changes as indicated on the allergy treatment plan prescribed by your child's health care team.
When your child has food allergies, you will need to carefully read labels to make sure there are no allergens in the foods your child will eat for each meal and snacks. Also, pay additional attention to the nutrition labels to make sure you include important nutrients in your child's diet when you are avoiding allergens. The overall pattern of foods eaten becomes an important focus for a daily, healthy diet. It is not important to make sure that each meal is balanced, but rather, that you add a variety of foods during the day to balance out a child's diet. You should check labels for allergens, even if your child has eaten the food safely in the past. Food manufacturers frequently change ingredients, so the best way to avoid allergens is to read the label every time your child is going to consume the food.
How can you ensure that your child with food allergies has a healthy diet? Here are some suggestions:
- First of all, focus on all the foods your child can eat by making food lists. Usually, it's amazing to see how many foods your child can eat when you use this approach.
- Separate the foods listed into meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks), then into food groups.
- At each meal, choose a food from each group to obtain a good balance of nutrients.
- Highlight favorite foods with a colored highlighter marker on your list.
- Add some unusual foods or foods from other countries to the list for more variety.
- Your whole family can participate in the favorite food activity by printing initials next to favorite foods instead of highlighting them.
- Check the pantry and refrigerator to see how many of the “can eat” and “favorite foods” are in your house.
- Make a shopping list for foods so all of the foods for each meal are available to achieve a good balance in the diet.
What's the next step?
- Decide which of the important nutrients may be missing in your child's diet due to an allergy and find an alternate source. The following information may help.
|ALLERGEN||LOST NUTRIENTS||SUGGESTED ALTERNATE (If not allergic)|
|Milk||Protein, Calcium, Riboflavin, Phosphorus, Vitamins A, D, B12||Increase other protein foods: meat, fish, poultry, legumes, eggs (if safe for your child), fortified milk subsitutes; leafy greens, calcium-fortifed foods|
|Eggs||Protein, Iron, Biotin, Folacin, Riboflavin, Vitamins A, D, E, B12||Other protein foods: meats, fish, poultry, legumes, dairy (if safe for your child); fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, enriched grains|
|Soy||Protein, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Iron, Calcium, Zinc, Vitamin B6||Protein foods: meats, fish, poultry, legumes, eggs, dairy (if safe for your child); fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, enriched grains|
|Wheat||B Vitamins, Iron||Protein foods: meats, fish, poultry, legumes, eggs, dairy (if safe for your child); fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, fortified alternate grain products (rice, corn, oats, barley, buckwheat)|
|Peanuts and Tree Nuts||Protein, Vitamins, Minerals||Protein foods: meats, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy (if safe for your child); fruit, vegetables, enriched grains|
|Fish and Shellfish||Protein, niacin, Vitamins B6, B12, A, E||Protein foods: meats, poultry, eggs, dairy (if safe for your child); fruit, vegetables, enriched grains|
So, you can see from the chart if you avoid only one food due to an allergy, other foods can provide the same nutrients. Milk’s biggest nutrient is calcium, so unless a fortified substitute is carefully chosen, calcium may be the most difficult nutrient to replace for young, growing bodies. In that case, it may be necessary for you to discuss calcium supplements with the allergist or dietitian.
As the awareness of food allergies has increased over the years, so has the number of food companies producing allergen free foods. It is much easier now to choose foods to ensure adequate nutrition than even five years ago. When you choose foods, you will need to take time to read the labels and nutrition panels as well to learn as much as possible about the foods that are okay to include in your child’s diet.
Once you follow these tips to learn about choosing nutritious foods, it will be easy to “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day”, even when your child has food allergies.
Deb Indorato, RD, has served as nutrition advisor on the medical advisory team of Kids With Food Allergies Foundation since we began in 2005. She has a special interest in food allergies and consults with medical practices and businesses to educate staff on food allergies. She provides food allergy education for individuals and groups. She is also an allied health member of American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, and has served on its Adverse Reactions to Foods Committee.