Power of the Peanut

For years, pediatricians and allergists have advised parents to delay the introduction of highly allergenic foods in high-risk infants to prevent the development of allergies. This includes cow’s milk until age one, egg until age two and peanuts, tree nuts and fish until age three. However, within the past couple of years, there have been significant scientific findings supporting the recommendation for babies to try peanut products in their first year of life.

Recent findings in the New England Journal of Medicine have promoted global health authorities to reconsider long-held advice that babies should avoid certain foods, more specifically peanuts. Researchers found that the early introduction of peanuts to the diets of infants at high risk of developing peanut allergies significantly reduced the risk of peanut allergies until six years of age, even if they stop eating peanuts around the age of five. This shows that the benefit of early exposure is essentially permanent and doesn’t need to be maintained by continued consumption of peanuts. These findings support to similar results announced last year from the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) trial, also published in the New England Journal of Medicine and utilizing the same group of study participants. The LEAP study found that high-risk infants who ate peanuts by age 11 months had a significantly (74 percent) lower rate of peanut allergies by age five than infants who avoided peanuts.

The 2015 research also led to a consensus statement endorsed by 10 medical groups including the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Israel Association of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Japanese Society for Allergology, Society for Pediatric Dermatology, and World Allergy Organization. The consensus statement summarizes the evidence that finds early peanut introduction is safe and effective in infants at high risk of peanut allergies. As of March 2016, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease proposed new guidelines recommending that children at risk of peanut allergies be fed peanuts starting at age four-six months, though they should be tested first to make sure they do not already have an allergy.

While the recommendation from these findings is to introduce peanuts at an early age, it is important to note these are peanut products that will not pose any infant choking hazards, i.e. whole peanuts or large amounts of peanut butter.

This is also good news because there has been recent research supporting the health benefits of peanuts. Peanuts and peanut butter contain more than 30 essential nutrients, which makes them “nutrient-rich.” Some of these nutrients include proteins, healthy fats, antioxidants and fiber. A report in the Journal of Applied Research on Children found that snacking on peanuts three to four times a week could help lower one’s Body Mass Index, or BMI. Other researchers have found that certain compounds found in peanuts are closely related to the antioxidant resveratrol, found in wine. Continued testing will be done to find out if these compounds provide the same health benefits as resveratrol, but preliminary findings are positive.

In 2015, research published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who ate peanuts and other nuts were substantially less likely to have died of any cause, particularly heart disease. This work makes the health benefits of nuts more accessible to lower-income shoppers and, as we know from our 2015 CCFI research, healthy and affordable food is a top concern for consumers.

With all of the recent research casting a positive light on peanuts, it can be expected that this powerhouse legume will continue to shine bright on grocery shelves and provide a healthy and affordable option for consumers.

The image “Peanuts” by Daniella Segura is licensed under CC BY 2.0.