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Promoting good digestion and understanding food allergies

Allergy food concept
It can be very frustrating when your tummy starts acting up. Digestion issues can cause all sorts of uncomfortable problems, and have a big impact on your life. Where possible, you should try and look after your gut by eating the right things and avoiding foods that cause issues and flare ups. Everyone is different, and have certain things that upset their digestion, so you have to pay attention to your own body and consult with your doctor if any major issues arise. However, there are some easy ways to promote good digestion and ease the effects of tummy troubles.

1. Eat leafy veg

We all know that green vegetables are good for us. They might not be everyone’s favourite, but if you want to keep your gut happy, you should eat them regularly. One of the reasons why they are so good for you is because they contain lots of fibre and can help regulate your digestion.

2. Yoga

Yoga for digestion? Yes really. Yoga can help the circulation around your intestines, reduce tension and help IBS. Speak to a yoga expert and ask for poses that can help digestion. Plus, you may experience less tummy issues if you are a little more relaxed.

3. Ginger

Ginger can contribute to healthy digestion. Why? It’s anti-spasmodic and can help to relax your tum and get rid of stomach cramps. Add some to your dinner or to a mug of warm water to give your gut a helping hand.

4. Herbal teas

Having a comforting herbal tea after dinner can lessen your bloating and help you to digest food. Research has shown that certain teas can do wonders for digestion, including fennel, peppermint, ginger and chamomile.

5. Eat enough fibre

If you are struggling to go to the toilet, you may want to check you have enough fibre in your diet. Research has shown that foods high in fibre can help with irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.

6. Hydrate

Many digestive issues can be down to a lack of hydration. Keep your fluid intake high enough if you want to enjoy hassle-free digestion. Water helps keep your intestines flexible and moves food along through them.

7. Give your gut good bacteria

Give your gut prebiotics and probiotics to help increase the levels of friendly, beneficial bacteria which helps your gut to function.  

Why do people develop food allergies?

The body really is an incredible thing and part of what makes it so, is the strength and support provided by the immune system. That is, until something comes along that it doesn’t understand how to respond to, such as a particular food. By trying to protect itself, an overreaction is triggered; resulting in some less than desirable effects on the body. Along with nuisances such as itching, sneezing, and skin rashes, there are more serious and even life-threatening outcomes, such as swelling of the tongue and anaphylaxis.

Family Tree

Whilst not always the case, allergies can run in the family. If a parent or both have one food allergy or more, the chances of it being passed down to their children is increased. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the child will experience the exact same allergy however, it could be something related or even something entirely different and possibly resulting in diverse symptoms. There are also certain foods, such as milk and eggs, which are more prevalent in babies and young children regardless, as their diet consists of such a small variety of foods. These types of allergies are more likely to be ‘grown out of’ over time.

It’s all relative

People who are allergic to a specific food may find that they also have an adverse reaction to related foods. This is known as ‘cross-reaction’. For example, someone who has an allergy towards peanuts might find that a similar reaction presents itself in the consumption of soybeans. This could be due to the fact that - even though the name would suggest it - peanuts are actually not a member of the nut family. It belongs to the same family as the soybean; the legumes. This is why it’s important to differentiate between this particular allergy and those who experience adverse symptoms towards tree nuts.

Breaking it down

The way that food is broken down in the body’s digestive system could well be a deciding factor in terms of food allergies taking hold. Food needs to be broken down properly in the gut in order for digestion to take place. If this situation isn't presented, this could well be a reason as to why food allergens are exacerbated and potentially explain why some are more susceptible to food allergies than others. This could also explain why some babies have almost instant reactions to certain food types, as their gut is more immature.

Levels of immunity

The gut contains an estimated 70-80% of the immune system. No one knows exactly what level of each food is necessary for the immune system to treat it as harmless or as an allergen but for most, food is accepted as a harmless substance and so an allergic reaction never takes place. But for those in which it does occur? The age in which solid food is introduced could be an important time for allergens to present themselves.

External factors

Allergies such as asthma and environmental kinds, like hay-fever can be an indicator of whether or not a food allergy will develop. Again, there is no guarantee that these types of allergies will go hand in hand with reactions to food but research has shown that in some instances where people have airborne and respiratory allergies, they will also have a reaction to certain foods This can be due to the similarity in the structure of pollen in relation to fruits, vegetables and nuts and can also be referred to as ‘Oral-Allergy Syndrome’. 

Ways to look after your child’s digestive system

Playtime, sibling spats and helping out with necessary chores, children need their energy and they acquire this from their food. So it’s imperative they have a digestive system in good working order for breaking down all their essential nutrients. That way, you can make sure they keep moving on par with the Duracell bunny. With that in mind, here are 6 helpful ways to look after your child’s digestive system.

Keep drinking separate

Whilst is seems to make sense that eating and drinking together go hand in hand, in actual fact this can often be a main cause of a slow digestive system. This is due to the fact that digestive juices become diluted by any liquid taken in. Drinking enough fluids each day is of course ultra-important for your child but it’s wise to keep the two separate and ensure a system by where they don’t expect to drink something each time a meal is presented.

Avoid overeating

Portion control. Two words with so many potential variants. It seems as though meals these days are ever increasing in size and so it’s important to get these under control, quite literally. Overeating puts unnecessary strain on the digestive system, meaning that the body isn’t able to break food down as well as it ordinarily could. As children aren’t able to select serving sizes themselves, it’s central that parents are able to demonstrate what a good and healthy sized portion looks like, not just to help with their stomachs but also as a good starting point to carry on throughout their years.

Use the right combinations

Digestive issues can be caused when certain foods are taken together. For example, offering up a meal heavy in protein based foods, such as meats along with starchy laden carbs like potatoes and pasta can be a little too heavy for efficient digestion. Digestion would be made considerably better if some meals revolved around healthy combinations. For example, serving up a plate full of omega 3 healthy salmon and leafy, green vegetables - even if this means pretending that broccoli is a type of sweet! This of course doesn’t mean to say children can never combine these types of food together – after all a hearty roast is what Sundays are made for.

Ditch the processed foods

Processed foods can be harmful in the fight against digestion. This is largely due to the fact that they contain all sorts of preservatives and substances, which can lead to confusion within the body, leading to less than normal digestion. As you’re trying to keep your child’s system in tip-top working order, cutting out any type of processed food on the regular, such as packaged ready-to-eat meats and yes, unfortunately, fast food would be a super helpful move and make for a happy tum.

Take enough time

Slow it down! Often not a phrase adhered to by children but one that is of the utmost importance in relation to the digestive system. Not only does it mean that they can really focus on enjoying their yummy meal, they will also take more time to chew. The more their mouths do at the dinner table, the less their stomach will have to take on and voila! A happier digestive structure overall.

Exercise is key

Any type of exercise which gets your child’s heart rate going and breathing increased is welcome news for their digestive systems. Because it helps to rev up their intestinal muscles, the food will move more smoothly through them. Getting 45 minutes to an hour each day could really help to get things moving in the best possible way!

What are the most common food allergies?

Eggs, milk and flour. Not the ingredients for a home-baked treat but in fact for some, a recipe offering up quite the opposite, as all can produce potentially dangerous side effects. A food allergy is when the body sees a specific food as an unwelcome intruder, mistakenly creating an antibody (IgE) to attack it. Visit www.allergy.co.uk for more information. The most common food allergies are grouped into 8 types:

1. Peanuts

Swallowed or inhaled in small amounts, this is potentially one of the most dangerous types of allergies. Whilst children can grow out of some allergies, a nut allergy is usually for life. Most sufferers will experience mild symptoms but for some it can be life-threatening due to drops in blood pressure, anaphylaxis and even cardiac arrest.

2. Tree nuts

It’s not just peanuts that can provoke such a reaction. Tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts and pine nuts can also cause extreme allergic reactions.

3. Soy

Soybeans are used in foods such as Tofu and dairy alternative yoghurts and drinks. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and itching in the mouth region.

4. Wheat

Often confused with gluten sensitivity and Celiac Disease, a wheat allergy can be difficult to diagnose but skin prick testing is the most accurate way to do so. For some, avoidance of other grains containing gluten, such as barley and rye must also be avoided.

5. Milk

From abdominal pain and sneezing to vomiting and wheezing, milk allergies can be a literal pain in the neck. Children are mainly afflicted but that doesn’t mean to say it can’t also affect fully grown bones. It’s important to note that Lactose intolerance isn’t the same as a milk allergy as the symptoms tend to be more severe.

6. Eggs

How do you like your eggs in the morning? For some, none at all as it is one of the most common allergies amongst children. Signs and symptoms range from mild to severe, including rashes, vomiting and other digestive issues.

7. Fish

For some, the ingestion of fish with fins can cause severe anaphylaxis. The symptoms usually prevail quickly, sending the body into shock. Many surprising products contain fish products, so it’s important to read ingredient lists on pre-packaged foods.

8. Shellfish

Specific to marine animals such as crabs, lobsters and shrimp, a shellfish allergy can also produce anaphylatic shock, so it’s important that sufferers have immediate access to epinephrine, and quickly.

Common food allergies in children and why these occur

Itchiness, sickness and an upset stomach. If your baby has been rejecting the bottle of late or your little one has been not going quite so nuts for, well, nuts, a food allergy could well be on the cards. Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system treats a certain food as an invader and so reacts accordingly. In literal terms, what this means is that histamines get created. Classic allergic reactions, such as hives, itching and swelling are a direct result of these histamines.

So, what are the common ones in children?

The most common food allergies in children are wheat, soy, milk, eggs, peanuts, fish and shellfish. Alongside symptoms such as itching, swelling and skin rashes, these foods can also provide a severe reaction, called anaphylaxis. This requires the need for epinephrine also known as an Epipen, as not only can this reaction come on rapidly but it can be fatal if not treated urgently.

So, why do children get these types of allergies?

Food allergies are most common in children and there are some reasons as to why this is the case. Firstly, if one or both parents are in possession of an allergy, it is much more likely that the child will also experience the same reaction. Food allergies and asthma also tend to go hand in hand, so if a child experiences asthma or allergies of a more environmental disposition, such as hayfever, it’s more likely that hyper-sensitive reactions to certain foods will take place and vice versa. Previous exposure to certain food allergies could also be a reason as to why these present themselves again. So if your baby made it clear from the crib that milk was a no-no, but then began to tolerate it as they grew, it shouldn't be too surprising if the same allergy were to rear its head in later childhood. Food allergies in children appear to be on the rise but experts appear almost baffled by this, as there is no definitive explanation as to what has caused the increase, and how it has occurred so quickly. But the good news is that as children grow and change, so can their tolerance towards certain foods. It’s important to note however, that reactions to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish seem to linger around for longer and can even present themselves as lifelong conditions.  
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