You have decided to cut out some or all allergens to continue breastfeeding. Your infant will have the nutrients they need to thrive while not being exposed to foods that elicit an immune response, but what about you? What about your nutrition?
It goes back to the adage about putting your oxygen mask on before helping others on a plane. It is impossible to properly care for your children if you are not taking care of yourself. It is possible, and even likely, that removing entire subsets of food from your diet may leave you depleted of proper nutrients. Here, we want to explore the possible downsides of removing each of the top eight food allergens and what you can do nutritionally to make up for it.
Cow’s milk, and all the products created from it, are a staple in most women’s diet for calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, D, and B12. Unfortunately, cow’s milk protein can also be incredibly hard for infants to digest, typically making it the first suspect when symptoms arise. Many milk alternatives are now available which offer several of the same benefits, including those based from pea protein, oats, almonds, and coconut.
The best dietary sources of calcium are seeds (chia, sesame, poppy), beans, dark leafy greens, figs, and almonds. Additionally, foods such as sweet potatoes, white beans, beets, spinach, and bananas can be great substitutes for obtaining many of the nutrients found in milk.
Soybeans are high in protein, vitamin C, folate, iron, and magnesium. Unfortunately, these properties can be significantly reduced depending on how the plant is processed. The best alternative to find these vitamins and minerals (plus more!) is avocado. This funny fruit contains vitamins C, E, K and B6 in addition to folate, magnesium, and potassium. While it does not contain high levels of protein, it is a great source of healthy fats.
Biotin, copper, niacin, thiamin, and phosphorous are some of the noteworthy nutrients that can be derived from peanuts. One allergen-friendly alternative to peanuts is squash, which contains all the mentioned vitamins and minerals. Squash is especially known for its high levels of vitamin A (another alternative for dairy consumption).
So many foods can be found under this list: almond, cashew, walnut, chestnut, hazelnut, macadamia nut…you get the point. Many of the health-benefitting nutrients found in these nuts have already been discussed above, with the exception of zinc, copper, and Vitamin E. Interestingly, chickpeas provide both zinc and copper along with vitamin K, folate, phosphorous, fiber, and others. Personally, I love any excuse to add some more Hummus into my life!
Vitamin E is vital for breastfeeding mothers and research indicates they should consume at least 19mg daily. This is due to its protective and developmental effects on the child’s muscles, cardiovascular system, and nerves. Excellent alternative sources include spinach, sunflower seeds, and tomatoes.
Two main components to focus on when removing fish are omega-3 fatty acids and iodine. The need for omega-3 fatty acids is critical for infants through age two to ensure proper brain development. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are both incredibly high in these heart-healthy, neurologically beneficial fatty acids. Personally, I like to ground them up and add them to a morning smoothie or oatmeal.
Conversely, the likely best source of iodine is seaweed (hello, sushi rolls!) with a whopping 2,984 mcg per kombu kelp sheet. Even fish with higher levels, such as cod, only boast a measly 65-100 mcg per serving.
While there are several different types of shellfish, and they all contain many different vitamins and minerals, they have one very interesting and unique nutrient: glucosamine. Due to the demand of a vegan glucosamine option, manufacturers now offer glucosamine products made from the fungus Aspergillus niger or from fermenting corn. Unfortunately, there is very little research on this supplement as it relates to breastfeeding. If you believe you would benefit from glucosamine, please consult with your physician.
If you look specifically at whole wheat, you will find that it provides selenium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, and more. Let’s dig into selenium since we haven’t covered it above. This mineral is vital to a healthy metabolism and thyroid function as well as containing protective properties from oxidative stress. Many meat sources, such as pork, beef, turkey, and chicken, also have high levels of selenium.
Interestingly, eggs are one of the few foods which naturally contain vitamin D. Lutein and zeaxanthin can also be found in eggs. These carotenoids are essential for eye health and function in addition to reducing your risk of macular degeneration. Top foods with these three nutrients consist of kale, spinach, swiss chard, and green peas.
In order to properly provide nutrients for your baby, you must first do so for yourself. Use this guide to supplement your diet with healthy foods that will keep you going through the long days and longer nights. These alternatives will allow you to continue breastfeeding your food-sensitive child while still feeding you. Good luck Mama!