You can find a host of different opinions on whether to introduce gluten, wheat and dairy (or not!) when weaning your little one. We think it is more a matter of when and how to introduce these foods instead simply avoiding them – unless there is specific reason to avoid them, of course. Let’s have a look at why there is some controversy and what we think is the best approach to introducing these everyday foods.
The health authorities in the UK recommend waiting until your baby is 6 months old to introduce gluten cereals, wheat and dairy and other allergenic foods such as peanuts, eggs and shellfish.
This is because early introduction of these foods can increase the risk of developing food allergies as we discussed on an earlier article. Immune reactions to foods can be triggered if undigested food particles enter the blood stream from the gut. This occurs when the gut is not perfectly sealed but has “gaps” that allow large particles to get through. Babies’ guts mature, i.e. can be considered “sealed”, during the first year of life and research shows they should be is ready to digest gluten, wheat and dairy at around six months of age.
It is important to note that if your baby was premature you should speak to your GP or nutritionist before introducing solids in general, and gluten and dairy in particular as you might need to delay introduction of these foods for a few weeks.
Can I do anything to help my baby’s gut mature?
You can. First and foremost, do not rush weaning, wait until at least 4 months to start and avoid gluten, dairy, fish, eggs and nuts until 6 months.
Your baby’s gut will mature on its own with time and a varied and balanced diet but you can support the good bacteria that protects the gut walls by taking a good probiotic if you are breastfeeding or with a good infant probiotic if your little one is on formula.
What is gluten and what foods have it?
Gluten is a protein in cereals such as wheat, barley, spelt, semolina and rye. Gluten helps food keep it shape and that’s why high-gluten wheat flour (strong flour) is used for bread making, to ensure that the dough is elastic and doesn’t collapse when baking.
Foods containing gluten are those made with wheat (most breads, pizza, pasta, crackers, bagels, pretzels, rusks, cookies, cakes), barley, spelt (some breads, cakes and pasta), rye (bread, crackers), bulgur, cous-cous, semolina (puddings, pizza) and oats (porridge, muesli, bread).
But there are “hidden” sources of gluten in certain foods such as sausages, stuffing, fish fingers, chicken Kievs, soy sauce (although tamari is naturally wheat and gluten-free) processed foods, chocolate and gravies. If you are avoiding gluten make sure you check labels and look for the gluten-free symbol on any processed foods:
Gluten-free cereals can be introduced from 4 months and include rice and corn. Quinoa, buckwheat (despite its name, it is not related to wheat) and amaranth are pseudocereals and are therefore gluten-free and a very nutritious alternative to pasta and rice.
Some people are allergic to gluten and suffer from a condition known as coeliac disease. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea and/or constipation, gas, bloating and cramps as well as fatigue, failure to thrive and mood swings.
There are also sensitivities to gluten that can present some of the above symptoms without triggering an allergic reaction. In both cases it is important to monitor your baby’s reaction to gluten and discuss any concerns with your GP.
Should you avoid gluten?
Only if your baby reacts to it. Otherwise, it is fine to enjoy it in moderation, but bear in mind that gluten is in many everyday foods and continued over- exposure may increase the risk of developing a sensitivity or intolerance later in life.
Dairy proteins and foods containing dairy.
Foods containing dairy are not limited to milk, cheese and yogurt. Ice-cream, baked goods, milk shakes, even sausages, sweets, cereal bars and very many processed foods may contain milk derivatives. So, if you are avoiding dairy, do check the labels and look out for the dairy-free symbol.
Allergy to dairy is the most common food allergy in infancy with up to 5% of children suffering from it. Dairy contains two different proteins: 80% casein and 20% whey and allergies can be developed to one or both of them. Casein proteins can be of two types: A1 and A2 beta-caseins and research shows that milk containing just A2 casein had lesser effects on people with dairy allergies.
If a cow’s milk allergy is identified, your baby might still be able to drink goat’s milk and enjoy goat’s yogurt and cheese as their proteins are different. If baby reacts to those as well or goat ‘s milk products are not an option, dairy alternatives can be added to his or her diet but ensure they contain no added sugar and if not fortified with calcium, check with your GP or nutritionist as baby may benefit from an infant supplement.
Dairy allergy is very different to lactose intolerance which is not related to immune issues. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the sugar in milk because of low levels of the enzyme lactase in the gut. There are lactose-free cow’s milk products that lactose intolerant children are able to digest well.
Dairy products make great snacks and are a good source of protein to support growth and calcium needed for bone and teeth health. However, do remember that even if your baby tolerates (and enjoys!) dairy, cow’s or goat’s milk is nowhere near as nutritious as breast or formula so it should not be used as baby’s main drink until he or she is 12 months old.
How do I know if my baby is having issues digesting gluten or dairy?
Allergy or sensitivity symptoms in babies include:
- skin issues like eczema, rashes or itchiness
- respiratory issues such as constant runny nose and cough, ear ache or even excessive dribble
- digestive problems including vomiting, diarrhoea and/or constipation, gas, bloating and cramps.
To make things even more complicated for parents to identify, symptoms can appear hours (even days!) after the culprit food has been introduced. That is why it is recommended that each new food is introduced on its own and, especially with those that may cause allergies, a few (ideally three) days apart.
It is very helpful to keep a diary of foods introduced and symptoms developed especially if you suspect your baby is reacting to certain food.
If your baby shows any of the above symptoms regularly we advise you to contact your GP to discuss any potential reactions to foods. In some cases, your GP may recommend blood tests to identify what foods are causing the reaction so you can eliminate them from his or her diet.
Written by Purple Carrot Nutrition: https://purplecarrotnutrition.co.uk/