It’s food intolerance, not fussy eating

There is more to the saying, “You are what you eat”, than you may give credit for. For instance, different foods can actually cause different reactions, particularly if a child is sensitive or allergic to certain types of food. It should come as no surprise to learn that more and more Malaysians are learning about allergies the hard way, with the growing number of allergies and people who suffer from them. Regardless of the cause, some 60% of all allergies tend to appear during the first year of life, with an estimated one in three children being affected by allergy.

The biggest problem with allergies is that it can present in many ways – atopic eczema or dermatitis, allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma are all examples of allergies. In fact, almost any substance can become an allergen (the allergy-causing culprit); common ones include dust, pollen, mould, pet fur/hair, and even certain foods. Food allergy vs intolerance A food allergy is an immune system response that reacts to specific types of foods, such as shellfish (e.g. crabs, shrimp, lobsters, etc), peanuts, egg white, fish or cow’s milk. The response can include vomiting and/or stomach cramps, an outbreak of hives, a sudden shortness of breath, wheezing or repetitive coughing, difficulty swallowing, weak pulse, and/or feelings of dizziness or nausea. In extreme cases, anaphylactic shock can occur, which is a potentially life-threatening situation where the body goes into shock and multiple symptoms occur simultaneously.

Food intolerance, on the other hand, is a digestive system response, which is what happens when your child’s body is having trouble digesting the food she has eaten. Now, it may be a little confusing at first as both do share some similarities. However, as food intolerance is only related to the digestive system, the symptoms you observe should be tied to it too, e.g. nausea, stomach pain or discomfort, diarrhoea, vomiting, bloating or gas. She may also suffer from additional symptoms such as heartburn, headaches, or irritability or nervousness. Food intolerance is a digestive system response that occurs when your child’s body is having trouble digesting the food she has eaten. 

On the other hand, food intolerance develops over time, and requires larger “doses” of food before you see an effect. The food may have some effect if your child eats it often enough. It is usually not life-threatening. If you do suspect that your child has food allergies or food intolerance of some kind, do make it a point to consult your child’s paediatrician first. Chances are high that it is just a passing phase, and avoiding the food you assume caused her allergy/intolerance means depriving her of any potential nutritional benefit this food may offer her. Keeping track As there is no existing test that is able to conclusively determine what your child is intolerant to, the only reliable means is the good old, scientific method of observation and study; this can be achieved by keeping an accurate food diary.

The main points you need to keep track of are:

• What you have given him or her

• When and in what quantity it was given

• Symptoms, if any, that may have appeared

This is the most reliable way to find out if any food in particular is causing your child to suffer. In fact, if you suspect that you are also suffering from food intolerance, this may be a great way for you to find out what exactly is causing you that upset or bloated tummy. This food diary should be continued until the foods causing the symptoms have been identified. However, do note that a food diary is only as useful as its entries, so keep them for at least two weeks in order to identify any common patterns or symptoms. Remember, you should not avoid any food or food groups for too long in order to ensure your child’s diet remains nutritionally sound. If any food or food groups need to be avoided, do talk to a dietitian or nutritionist to determine a strategy to deal with his food intolerance.