Food allergies are a growing problem in the United States and around the world. In fact, the rates of food allergies grew 50% between 1997-2011. But still we don’t know the exact cause.
Theories include issues with dietary deficiencies, environmental exposure to toxins, and overuse of antibiotics and antimicrobial cleaning products (you can read more about the microbiome in this blog post). We do know that food allergies are a developed world problem. You can see rates of allergies rise as countries improve their economies with more industrialization.
At one time the standard advice to parents was to avoid peanut exposure in young children. But this did not stem the tide of the growing number of allergic children. Those doctors who were honest with their patients said that we just don’t know what is the best advice about introducing nuts and peanuts.
A new study just published shows that young children who ate peanuts on a regular basis had a much lower rate of allergies to peanuts than children not exposed to peanuts. This study was done in Israel and the UK. Israeli children regularly eat peanut snacks called Bamba much like we in the USA feed kids Cheerios, apple or rice snacks. And Israeli kid had less food allergies than children in other developed countries. This raised the theory that exposure to peanuts was helpful in preventing allergies.
The study included children who may have a predilection to food allergies, that is children who were already allergic to eggs or milk or had eczema. There were two groups, one who ate peanuts and one who did not. The group that ate peanuts had 81% less allergies. That’s a huge difference.
Although it is too early for an official change in advice for parents of young children, this is very exciting news that many help prevent the development of food allergies.
My own personal experience with our son (who was not predisposed to allergies as the the children in the study were) was to introduce many foods at a young age. Food is a big part of the family time together and he was interested in food from a young age, about 4 months. My wife had heard about a method called Baby Lead Weaning, which you give whole foods for babies at a young age. It certainly worked to help build a well rounded diet, a taste for many foods, and skills at eating. And we were able to introduce new unprocessed foods very easily including nuts and peanuts.