8 Common Food Sensitivities in Children

March 31, 2022

Kid boy with stomach pain holding a glass of milk. Dairy Intolerant person. Lactose intolerance, health care concept; blog: common food sensitivities in children

Food intolerances and sensitivities are extremely common and seem to be on the rise, particularly among children. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 20% of the world’s population may have food intolerance.

Before we dig into the most common food sensitivities in children, let’s first explain the difference between them and allergies. 

Difference Between Food Sensitivities and Food Allergies

Food intolerances or sensitivities are often confused with a true allergy. Generally, an allergy occurs when the body produces immunoglobulin (IgE) antibodies in response to a particular allergen.

It’s easy to assume that an adverse reaction is a food allergy. The symptoms resulting from lactose intolerance, food poisoning, irritable bowel syndrome, and even eczema can easily be confused as an allergy.

The most common allergic reactions to food include hives, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes or eczema, swelling, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis, which can cause multiple symptoms, including breathing difficulties.

Though not always the case, parents will typically know if their child is allergic to food because their child will react immediately and often severely. But a food intolerance can be subtler and more difficult to identify.

The most common causes of food intolerance are lack of an enzyme needed to digest a certain food or insufficient enzymes to digest food fully, sensitivity to certain chemicals in food such as chemical food additives, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and psychological factors.

Common Food Sensitivities in Children

While people can be allergic to dozens of foods, there are eight common culprits: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean shellfish. An allergy to sesame is an emerging concern.

One might assume that these same foods are also the most common food intolerances in children, but there are some differences. The most common food sensitivities in children are: 

Other common food sensitivities include aspartame, eggs, MSG, food colorings, yeast, and sugar alcohols.

How to Determine if Your Child has Food Sensitivities

Symptoms of food intolerance vary by individual, the type of food that causes the reaction, and the amount of food eaten. Problematic food eaten in small amounts may cause no symptoms, while larger portions may cause great discomfort. Symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Gas or bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Skin rash or flushed skin
  • Hives
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability or nervousness (from caffeine intolerance)
  • Anemia

For More Information

If you suspect that your child may be intolerant to a certain food or food additive, speak to your doctor about testing and treatment options.

Holly Springs Pediatrics is committed to providing quality care to your kids at all times. That includes being there in uncertain times. We will always prioritize the health and safety of your family. Call our Holly Springs, NC pediatric office at (919) 249-4700 to schedule an appointment or talk to a staff member.