You may have read last week that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has issued new guidance on children and peanut allergies – advice which completely upends what parents have been told in the past.
It used to be believed that the best way to prevent peanut allergies was to avoid exposing children to any peanut-containing products until age three. Now the NIAID is recommending the opposite approach, urging parents to expose their babies to this potential allergen before they’re six months old – and even earlier if they’re known to be prone to food allergies.
The new guidance is based in part on a study which found that Jewish children in Israel had fewer peanut allergies than Jewish children living in Britain. In Israel, a popular peanut snack called Bamba is frequently fed to babies as an early first solid food. (Bamba is basically the equivalent Veggie Booty – a popular infant snack here in America – but coated with peanut powder instead of veggie powder.)
Despite this new guidance, though, parents shouldn’t rush to feed their babies peanuts. For one thing, peanuts themselves are a choking hazard; exposure must come through safer forms of the food, like peanut powder or extract, or peanut butter thinned with water. Also, before exposing any child to peanuts, the NIAID advises that parents first find out if he or she is at a higher risk for food allergies, a determination that can be made by a pediatrician. And if a child’s risk appears to be high, the NIAID recommends that the first peanut exposures take place at a doctor’s office in case an allergic reaction does occur.
While allergy experts believe this new guidance could reduce the number of peanut allergies in this country “by tens of thousands,” some parents of kids already allergic to peanuts are very concerned about how the advice will be interpreted and applied. For an overview of those concerns, check out this recent Huffington Post piece by Lianne Mandelbaum, a prominent food allergy activist.
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