My daughter frequently complains of a stomachache at night before I put her to bed. Can it be that she’s allergic to something she’s eating?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

I often hear this complaint from parents. The first thing I do is take a diet history and, more often than not, I find these children are eating a lot of dairy foods and sugary desserts. This prevents the intestinal tract from working smoothly. It tries to figure out its priorities – should it digest the fat, the carbohydrate, or the protein first? The child will experience stomach cramps and hyperacidity. This increases the likelihood of sleeping problems. The blood sugar levels will bounce around, and the digestive system isn’t going to work well.

Human beings are not designed like wolves, lions, or tigers. I believe that we’re not meant to be carnivores. Animals who are supposed to eat meat have short, fast digestive systems. Instead, we have 25 feet of intestines in a system that works very slowly. We were designed to digest high-carbohydrate foods, not high-protein, high-fat meals. Steak and potatoes, followed by chocolate cake, is a guaranteed recipe for a stomach ache.

A family dinner is a time when everyone gets together and talks about the day. It is also an opportunity for a parent to set a good example for children. If Dad refuses to eat green vegetables, you can be certain his children won’t want to eat green vegetables either. If Mom salts everything before she eats it, her children will copy her behavior. When the dining habits of the parents include meat, butter, and sugary desserts, these patterns become habits their children will follow to adulthood.

Instead, plan a balanced meal centered on a grain or pasta dish. Include a salad, vegetables, and a non-sugary fruit dessert. Serve it along with good conversation and laughter. You’ll have promoted good eating habits, fed your family well, and put an end to those bedtime stomachaches.

As an aside, stomachaches can be a result of school or family stress. If good dietary adjustments don’t solve the problem, probe for emotional issues.