When it comes to preventing peanut allergies, the latest recommendation is that some babies should be introduced to peanut-containing foods at a very early age in the hopes of reducing the risk of allergy. Now the FDA has announced that packages of some peanut-containing baby food can include that advice on the label. This is the first time ever that the FDA has approved a health claim related to preventing food allergies.
The claim reads: "For most infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy who are already eating solid foods, introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age. FDA has determined, however, that the evidence supporting this claim is limited to one study. If your infant has severe eczema and/or egg allergy, check with your infant's healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts."
It's a wordy statement, to be sure, but an important one, especially for parents who may still have concerns about introducing peanut products to their babies. "Our goal is to make sure parents are abreast of the latest science and can make informed decisions about how they choose to approach these challenging issues," said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, in a statement released yesterday.
The FDA says manufacturers can immediately start putting the claim on the front or side of packages. You'll see it on food products that contain ground peanuts and are safe for babies to eat, such as infant cereal or puffed snacks. (Whole peanuts and tree nuts and gobs of nut butter can cause choking and should never be given to kids younger than four.)
This move by the FDA was in response to a petition filed by Assured Bites, a company that makes a peanut introduction system consisting of peanut blends that can be mixed into baby food.
It used to be that parents were discouraged from giving peanut-containing foods to kids younger than three who were at risk for allergy, but that's changed. A groundbreaking study published in 2015 found that giving peanut protein to high-risk babies as young as four months actually slashed the risk of developing the allergy by 80 percent.
Now, the NIH's new guidelines state that babies who have severe eczema, egg allergy, or both should be fed peanut protein as young as 4-6 months. The caveat: You should talk to your child's childcare provider before giving peanut in case the provider wants to do an allergy test first or have you give that initial peanut feeding with medical supervision.
The new claim calls out the importance of consulting with a physician or other provider first. "This is so important, as infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy will need screening prior to introduction, and the claim doesn't address or specify quantity of peanut protein," says Michael Pistiner, MD, Director of Food Allergy Advocacy, Education and Prevention at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "These issues must be addressed by knowledgeable healthcare providers."
According to the FDA, prevalence of peanut allergy has more than doubled in kids between 1997-2008 and currently affects two percent of American children. Peanut allergy is the leading cause of death related to food-induced anaphylaxis in the U.S.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.