By Clare Marcangelo
This is a common issue for many parents these days, it seems. With many children having varying issues with dairy, it is important for parents to know the facts, so that they can build their child a diet that will serve them best.
One of the biggest problems parents may come across is not really understanding the cause for their child’s issue. Often they cut out dairy, switch to A2 milk, or just to lactose free products without really knowing what would be the right option.
You see, issues with dairy can come in more than one form. If need be, your paediatrician or Immunologist will be able to diagnose your child with either of the following:
Your child may have a full dairy allergy. This is the trickiest to manage, as care must be taken to completely avoid any products that may even have traces of dairy, and unfortunately, this is a long list. Symptoms for this condition can range from tummy aches, bloating, and diarrhoea all the way to full anaphylaxis. You will be happy to hear though, that unlike many allergies, a large percentage of childhood dairy allergies do resolve over time, so be sure to work with your immunologist to revisit dairy when and if this becomes an option.
The other option is lactose intolerance, which is quite different as it means a lack of the enzyme Lactase – responsible for the breakdown of lactose. Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar within cow’s milk. In this case, people may choose to still completely avoid dairy, however it is possible to consume “Lactose–free” milk products without any discomfort. Many parents report this to be a game changer for their children, but again, it’s essential to check in with a health professional to determine if this is indeed the case. As we now know the potential effects of gut health on the rest of the body, continually consuming a potential allergen will keep contributing to an imbalance within the gut and could begin to really start a cascade of other health issues, so its best to know what our child needs.
In addition to this, many families find that just switching to A2 milk has resolved their child’s minor digestion issues. This may be because they had trouble digesting A1 casein – the protein in most cow’s milk. Jersey cows are seldom farmed for milk currently, however they produce a different “casein” or milk protein, called A2. If you would like to try this, there are other options in addition to branded A2 milk, Harris farm stocks a jersey milk, as does Johnson’s Farmgate – an independent farm who run a stall at the Gosford Farmer’s market containing jersey milk, cheese, and yoghurt. Again, although this is a wonderful option, it is best to seek advice if your child suffers from significant symptoms as merely changing to A2 will not help someone experiencing lactose intolerance or milk allergy.
The next question that parents have is this – if I remove dairy my child will miss out on their daily calcium, wouldn’t it be better to just keep it in? The answer is always, no, and no. If we consume something our body cannot tolerate and continue to increase damage to our gut lining, we increase our chances of nutrient malabsorption. So then, no matter how terrific your little one’s diet is, they may start to not absorb all of the nutrients from their foods, and they need every last one to help with growth, development, learning and mood.
I often see diets where either the parent is easing back on dairy to not cause too much upset, or the child is intuitively avoiding it, and in these cases they may only be consuming one slice of cheese or half a cup of milk a day. Both of these each only amount to ½ serve of dairy for children, and as the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend children consume 1 ½ serves a day, many children are not meeting the mark anyway.
This is where I suggest the silver lining – when we restrict a diet we pay attention to it. For example, its so common for children to regularly only have a slice of ham or two bites of chicken as their meat for the entire day, whereas a parent who finds themselves with a newly vegetarian child will most likely obsessively tally up their child’s zinc, iron and plant–based protein sources to make sure they stay healthy. The same can be seen in a dairy–free diet– there are so many options we can use to fill the gaps.
Examples of calcium rich foods (other than dairy) – are chia, sunflower seeds, pea protein, kale, butternut pumpkin and sweet potato, sesame seeds, mustard greens, broccoli and rocket to name a few.
So if your child does need to exclude dairy for a time, don’t panic, just think outside the box.
Clare Marcangelo is a local registered Nutritionist and former Early Childhood practitioner who specialises in children’s health. As a mum herself, she knows how hard it can be to make even the smallest of changes to a family diet.