Written by Kaylee Slater
If you have been following along with our issues all year you would have learned a lot about food allergies already! You will know that the prevalence of food allergies is on the rise worldwide, with the highest incidence found in younger children (Fujimura et al., 2019). If you haven’t already, go have a read of our previous issues, however in this article we will give you a run-down of what food allergies are and then dive into our last allergies article for the year (where has the time gone)?
What are food allergies?
Food allergies (as the name suggests) occur when a person has some form of immune reaction to a food or food item. What happens though? Your immune system (yes that system that is meant to keep you healthy) responds unfavourably to some form of food item. It does this because it sees this food as “harmful” or “dangerous” and is therefore trying to protect you from that substance. Once the immune system has created this allergy, it will initiate an immune response and an allergic reaction will occur upon consumption of that food.
The most common food allergens that you should be looking out for are:
- Milk and milk products
- Tree nuts (almonds, cashews for example)
- Soy and soy products
These common allergens cause 90% of all food allergies and therefore are the first we look out for. In some cases, children with food allergies will grow out of them as they get older. However, don’t hold your breath, this is not always the case and often unlikely with seafood and peanut allergies.
Diet and food allergies
Diet plays a crucial role in not only the management of food allergies, but also the development (it is a reaction to food of course). Factors including the maternal diet, the microbiome and early life feeding have a role to play in the prevention of food allergies amongst our young population.
The role of nutrition in our immune system
Last issue we learned that babies are born with ‘immature’ immune systems, however with age and appropriate nutrition through either breast milk or formula, their immune system starts to develop. Additionally, in the first few weeks of life, a baby’s microbiome will start to develop, this also playing a role in the development of their immune system and response to allergens.
We also discussed the role of key nutrients; fats, zinc, and vitamin D in the management of food allergies, and as promised, this article will delve into the very popular topic; probiotics and prebiotics (you may not have heard of these yet, but read on and you’ll be an expert before you know it)!
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms – yes, you read that correctly, they are tiny bugs that live all around our body. Many people think they are only concentrated in our gastrointestinal system, but in actual fact they are everywhere, especially in our immune system (Mazzocchi et al., 2017). Probiotics have been proposed to act like modulators of the immune response and therefore can be preventative for allergic diseases.
Where can you find probiotics?
- Yogurt and fermented yogurt drinks such as kefir
- Miso soup
You can also get probiotics in tablet form (you may have seen an abundance of varieties on the supermarket shelves). However, each one of our gut microbiomes are a unique mix of hundreds-of-thousands of little bugs, and therefore not every supplemental variety may be right for us.
Another interesting fact comes from the World Allergy Organization (WAO) guidelines. Their research suggests that probiotic supplementation in infants may assist in reducing the risk of eczema. They recommend that mothers of high-risk infants consume a probiotic rich diet or take supplemental probiotics (i.e. where a biological parent or sibling has an existing allergy or history of allergic rhinitis, asthma, eczema, or food allergy) (World Allergy Organisation, 2015).
It is important that you nor your child commence supplementation without the input of your medical or allied health team!
Now this may be a new word for you! Don’t worry, it is not another new food trend! Instead, prebiotics are defined as non-digestible food components that essentially feed the probiotics living in our digestive system (Mazzocchi et al., 2017). In other words, they are types of dietary fibre and can very easily be found in our everyday foods.
The research looking into the role of prebiotics and allergies is currently limited, however some initial findings suggest that there may be some benefit. Researchers found that prebiotic supplementation in infants may reduce the risk of developing wheezing and food allergies (Mazzocchi et al., 2017). Although, as I mentioned research is currently scarce, so take that with a grain of salt for now. However, as prebiotics help to feed our probiotics, why not increase our food sources (there is certainly no harm in that)!
Some food sources of prebiotics include:
- Green leafy vegetables
Can our intake prevent allergies?
Absolutely! Here are some simple tips that we have discussed in our previous issues:
- Eat a wide variety of foods during pregnancy and lactation: this will not only increase the nutrient quality of your diet but also expose your baby to a range of allergens before they are even born!
- Don’t avoid common allergens during pregnancy: well unless you are allergic (that is a given), however avoidance of allergens only increases your baby’s chance of developing a food allergy!
- Don’t hold back on introducing allergens to your baby: once they are ready for solids, start introducing the allergens! If you are nervous about this, contact your Doctor or Dietitian for some support and assistance.
Thank you for coming along on the food allergies series! I have loved writing these articles and educating you all on the role of nutrition in the prevention and management of food allergies!
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