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Giving peanuts to infants may help curb peanut allergy, research shows

This Feb. 20, 2015, photo shows an arrangement of peanuts in New York. For years, parents of babies who seem likely to develop a peanut allergy have gone to extremes to keep them away from peanut-based foods. Now, a major study suggests that is exactly the wrong thing to do.
This Feb. 20, 2015, photo shows an arrangement of peanuts in New York. For years, parents of babies who seem likely to develop a peanut allergy have gone to extremes to keep them away from peanut-based foods. Now, a major study suggests that is exactly the wrong thing to do. AP

Peanut butter is a staple in my house. And I work for the pediatric department at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami.

So it was a wonderful learning opportunity when, as a sponsored speaker at a nutrition meeting, I learned that another presenter was the lead researcher responsible for the recent changes in feeding peanut butter during infancy.

Peanut allergy can be deadly, which is why so many schools are peanut free. The standard dietary recommendation had been to avoid peanuts during the first year of life, and longer if there was a risk of allergies. Unfortunately, these recommendations were not effective at reducing the incidence of peanut allergy.

Then researchers took note of the Bamba effect. Bamba is a corn-based, peanut-flavored snack that is a staple of the Israeli infant diet. To keep my nephews stress free, my Israeli sister would fill her suitcase with Bamba when visiting.

Jewish children in Britain were 10 times more likely to have peanut allergy than children in Israel. Researchers wondered if early introduction of peanuts, via Bamba, could be the contributing factor. They studied 600 babies who had a high risk of peanut allergy. Of the babies given either Bamba or peanut butter, 3 percent had peanut allergy at 5 years of age. The peanut-free group had 17 percent of 5-year-olds with peanut allergy.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published the following guidelines this month. Talk to your pediatrician before initiating these suggestions:

1. A baby with severe eczema and/or egg allergy is considered at high risk for peanut allergy. After negative peanut allergy testing, AAP advises peanut to be introduced between 4 to 6 months of age.

2. Infants with mild to moderate eczema, a group considered at increased risk for peanut allergy, should be introduced to peanuts around 6 months of age.

3. Infants without any risk factor can be introduced to peanuts along with other solid foods at six months.

Ways to introduce peanuts to infants are Bamba, smooth peanut butter mixed with milk or finely ground peanuts mixed in with yogurt.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.

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