HUNTINGTON, NY – A spike in food allergies may be our own doing. While there’s an onslaught of information and fear about childhood food allergies to items such as peanuts and eggs, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that parents can introduce these foods to infants to prevent future allergies.
“For many years, pediatricians advised parents to reduce the risk of food allergies by delaying the introduction of eggs, peanuts and other allergenic foods,” said Michael Grosso, MD, chief medical officer and pediatrician at Huntington Hospital. “More recently, however, a body of evidence has taught us how wrong we were.
“Just a year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics published new guidance that promoted the early introduction of peanuts. This advice was based on newer evidence, including a study of more than 600 British children that not only found that early introduction of peanuts was safe, but that adding this food to the diet of babies between four and 11 months of age significantly reduced their risk of peanut allergy. The study in this month’s JAMA actually evaluated the results of 146 different studies to determine that the benefit of early introduction applies to both peanuts and eggs.”
An estimated 15 million Americans, including nearly eight percent of children 17 and younger, have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. That number jumped 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Even though parents are now encouraged to introduce these foods to their children, they should do so in a calculated way, Dr. Grosso said.
“Because a few infants may have allergic symptoms at the time of first exposure, experts recommend that an allergist evaluate those at highest risk, such as infants with significant eczema, before parents try out potentially allergenic foods at home,” Dr. Grosso said.
So what are some good ways to get these foods into an infant’s diet?
“It is good to introduce eggs to an infant after eight to 12 months by way of custards or other cooked eggs such as scrambled or very fine poached eggs,” said Eric Sieden, director of food and nutrition services at Glen Cove, Plainview and Syosset hospitals. “There are four main proteins that are allergens in eggs, found in the whites, and there is a greater chance of the infant gaining exposure and tolerance to them by way of cooked egg product than with baked items that have eggs in them.”
As for bringing peanut butter into a young child’s diet, Mr. Sieden suggests powdered peanut butter. Creamy peanut butter is viscous and can be harder to incorporate into foods, he said.
“Powdered peanut butter, which is defatted peanuts ground into a powder, is a great product to add to yogurts and mashed bananas so you can begin the process of introducing peanuts via spoon-feeding,” Mr. Sieden said.