Teacher Says: Help Kids Become Food Allergy Detectives

By Evelyn Porreca Vuko

Science teachers and parents can turn kids from elementary to high school age into food allergy detectives.  Teach them to investigate their own bodies and to determine whether they have food allergies that affect their behavior and learning.

Stage 1: Do a Little Homework.

Many experts believe that nutrition and food play an important role in the behavior of children diagnosed with attention deficits, learning disabilities and pervasive developmental disorders.  Use Dr. William Crook’s book, Help for the Hyperactive Child: A Practical Guide Offering Parents of ADHD Children Alternatives to Ritalin.  Its workbook format is easy to read.

Stage 2: Investigate Behavioral & Learning Symptoms.

Personal investigation will help students learn more about themselves, their dietary choices and their behavior.  Use this checklist from Stanley Turecki’s book, The Difficult Child. Kids can decide on “yes,” “no,” or “sometimes.”

Are you active and don’t like sitting still?

Are you easily distracted while working?

Do you dislike new situations?

Do you have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep?

Are you a picky eater?

Are you moody?

Does noise bother you?

Are you bothered by strong smells?

Do you dislike bright lights?

Do you ever feel nervous?

Stage 3: Investigate Physical Symptoms.

Leo Galland, author of Superimmunity for Kids and The Four Pillars of Healing, starts by taking a lengthy history of his patients.  Here’s a format adapted for kids. Encourage them to conduct this part with their parents.

  1. Take a family history of allergies from Mom, Dad, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
  2. Examine the tongue for flat, discolored patches that resemble a topographical map.  Called “geographical tongue,” this condition frequently appears in kids with allergies.
  3. Check eyes for puffiness or dark circles.  Check ears for redness.  These symptoms often do not occur until 30-60 minutes after eating.
  4. Examine hair and skin for dryness, itchiness, flakiness or rashes.
  5. Notice how often thirst occurs.  Excessive thirst can be an allergy sign.

Ask the doctor for a history of treatments with antibiotics. Dr. Crook and others believe that repeated courses of antibiotics for ear infections can trigger the overgrowth of yeast in the digestive tract.  The yeast gives off toxins that can cause allergy symptoms.

Stage 4: Investigate Foods.

Next, students keep a notebook of their own daily meals, listing foods they crave.  People often crave the very foods to which they are allergic.  Each class can plan menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Involve the whole family, giving each member a job in preparation.  Note possible symptoms like fatigue, rashes or red ears for a week.

Stage 5: Do a 5-day Elimination Diet.

For 5 days, students test foods that are often associated with allergic reactions.  Watch especially for dairy products, wheat and sugar.  Many kids’ diets consist only of these ingredients, disguised as cereal, bagels, pasta and pizza.  Eliminate sausage, bacon and luncheon meats, com, peanuts and sodas.  Drink only water.  This step does not have to turn the school cafeteria into a trauma center at lunchtime.  Emphasize what can be eaten, not what is to be avoided.  This is a time to be adventuresome with new foods!

 Stage 6: Reintroduce Suspect Foods with a Pig-out Day.

Add back one potential allergen per day.  On Monday, have a sugar-rich diet; Tuesday can be dairy day, and wheat can be added on Wednesday.  Use a numerical rating system of 0-3 to evaluate symptoms mentioned in stage 3.

Stage 7: Apply the Results.

Kids can change their diets to exclude some of those foods that seem to trigger real symptoms.  Parents can help by incorporating some of Crook’s and Galland’s meal and recipe suggestions into their repertoire.  An energetic science teacher can even include cooking classes and tasting parties to introduce new dishes.

Scientific studies as far back as 1922 have shown a relationship between food and behavior.  Instead of parents, teachers, counselors, doctors, therapists and nutritionists banging their heads over what to do with hyperactive kids, maybe it’s time to bring the kids into the equation.  By investigating even a few of these stages at school or home, kids will become their own food detectives.