When I was young, my cousin was allergic to almost everything. Tree nuts, stone fruits, shellfish. With all of the allergies she had – my Aunt and Uncle decided it would be best not to feed her peanuts. One food allergy begets additional food allergies – right? Not quite. It turns out my cousin was completely unfazed by peanuts.
It seems we have been battling the poor peanut for a number of reasons now. Peanuts are banned in many schools to protect children who are allergic. Some schools have disallowed outside food altogether, as it is the only way assure their safety.
But peanut allergies continue to rise. In 1999 the prevalence of peanut allergies was around one half of one percent. In ten years that number grew to 2 percent.
Anyone who has children remembers being repeatedly warned by healthcare professionals to keep peanuts and any peanut products out of those children’s diet until they were two to three years old.
As is the case with many medical words of wisdom, the advice has flip-flopped.
Noted Indian dietician explains the peanut-shunning phenomenon in this very funny, engaging video. Watch here.
Why Peanuts Are Important
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases advise that babies should have peanuts in their diet as soon as they consume solid food. Early introduction is believed to be an effective way to prevent children— especially those genetically predisposed — from ever developing food allergies.
A study published in 2015 in the New England Journal of Medicine supports this theory through testing:
- Babies with a family history of food allergies who were thought to be at risk of developing them were used to conduct a study.
- Babies as young as 4 months and up to 11 months were tested for peanut allergies. Those who did not already have the allergy were given a few teaspoons of peanut butter in their diet each week. Another group was not given any peanut products.
- When those babies reached 5 years of age, they were examined again. The group who received peanut products had an 80% lower allergy rate than the group who avoided peanuts.
Peanut Guidelines for Babies
New parents are advised to give their babies peanuts in the form of peanut powder or peanut butter as early as six months or even earlier if food allergies run in the family. Dilute peanut butter with hot water, as it can be sticky and tough to swallow. Avoid giving whole peanuts, as they can be a choking hazard. Chop them up into finger food when you feel your child is ready, or consult your paediatrician for more specific advice.
There are many creative ways to add peanuts to your baby’s diet. Most babies like peanut butter, so you won’t have to worry about them being finicky:
- Add a spoon of natural peanut butter to your baby’s oatmeal or other cereal.
- Remember having a peanut butter and banana sandwich as a kid? Offer that taste to your baby by mashing bananas with peanut butter into a bowl.
- Peanut butter also pairs well with yogurt, applesauce or pureed baby food fruit.
- Children in India are also offered crushed peanuts with jaggey, which is a wonderful source of protein and minerals.
Peanuts Foods for Children and Adults
Once you aren’t afraid of your children choking on peanuts, there are many ways to make peanuts a part of their regular, healthy diet. Peanuts are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. They are high in calories but low in carbohydrates.
Peanuts can be boiled, roasted, salted and covered in chocolate. That’s just a few of the ways peanuts can be made into irresistible, tasty treats. You also can get them covered in a sweet, crunchy toffee, roasted in cinnamon, or made into peanut brittle.
Make finger foods they will enjoy, like thinly sliced apples they can dip into a blob of peanut butter. Make them a peanut butter sandwich, but cut it into small, manageable pieces. Add peanut butter to celery. Top with raisins for a fun, healthy snack.
There isn’t a cookie that doesn’t taste better with peanut butter or even whole peanuts added to it. Add peanuts or peanut butter Rice Krispie treats. Even marshmallows taste better with the peanut.
Many healthy Indian breakfasts like poha and sabudana Khichdi use groundnuts as part of their preperation recipe. It is also used along with rice preparations, like lemon rice or tamarind rice.
Use Medical Guidance to Help Make Your Peanut Choices
We want to protect our children, and we don’t want to be reckless with changing medical advice. But don’t be afraid to give peanut products to your children. Peanuts are delicious, and early introduction to peanut products may keep your child from developing peanut or other food allergies. Consult your pediatrician and make sure they are on board with your dietary plans before offering your child peanuts.
By offering these protein-packed legumes early, you could help your child avoid a debilitating allergy. That alone is enough to drive most people to try this approach.