NIH Recommends Giving Babies Peanut Foods Early

by Keiko Zoll

In the age of childhood food allergies, it might seem counterintuitive to expose your child to potential allergens. But, according to new guidelines from the National Institutes of Health, giving babies peanut-based foods early might prevent allergies. Previously in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations to parents that children who are most at risk for peanut allergies should not be exposed to any peanut products before the age of 3 — but in 2008, the AAP reversed its food allergy recommendations, stating instead that foods that contain potential allergens are no longer restricted for children, and could be introduced as early as 4 to 6 months of age.

These new recommendations for introducing peanut-based products to children follow a number of studies that have shown similar positive results: Children exposed to peanuts at a young age were less likely to develop peanut allergies. One British study was able to gather empirical data to support anecdotal evidence for this theory, as seen in Israeli children: From an early age, Israeli children eat a peanut snack called Bamba, even as infants — and Israel has one of the lowest peanut allergy rates in the world. Other studies that also backed this correlation between early exposure and fewer allergies were a primary factor for the NIH to issue new guidelines.

Specifically, these new NIH peanut allergy guidelines outline when and how to introduce peanut-based foods to infants, categorized into three different risk groups. The first recommendation is aimed at children at most risk for developing a peanut allergy: This group includes children who have other diagnosed food allergies, have a family member who has peanut or other food allergies, or who have eczema. For this group, the new guidelines recommend that parents introduce peanut-based foods as early as 4 to 6 months to avoid the development of a peanut allergy — but in close consultation with their child's pediatrician before introducing such foods. An allergy skin prick test may be required before introducing high risk infants to peanut-based foods.

The second set of recommendations is for infants who have mild to moderate eczema, a skin condition associated with food allergies. For these children, parents should wait until their infant is 6 months old before introducing such foods. For children who have no history or risk of developing food allergies, the recommendations state that they can have peanut-based foods introduced at any time. In all cases, this doesn't mean feeding your kids right out of the Planters Peanuts can, or offering them a spoon covered in Skippy — rather, mixing peanut-based foods into other foods as they begin to start solids.

Oh, and it definitely doesn't mean this, either:

I guess they thought it was like a mud mask.