Food allergies are more common than they ever were before, according to the Academy of American Pediatrics. Updated 2017 food allergy guidelines for parents show that peanut and tree nut allergies in particular are on the rise and that educating parents to spot the signs of those allergic reactions in their children is crucial. According to the AAP and the National Institute of Health, children are at a higher risk of food allergies if there is a family history, but, surprisingly, that doesn't mean that families should shy away from introducing peanuts or tree nuts into a baby's diet as soon as possible.
Previously, the NIH recommended that parents, especially those with a history of food allergies in the family, wait until the toddler years to introduce peanuts into a diet. However, after consulting with an allergist, the new guidelines suggest that parents introduce foods containing nuts as early as 4 to 6 months old, even if the baby already has a documented egg allergy or eczema, which are usually indicators that the child will be more allergic to peanuts.
If children are known to have a peanut allergy, obviously parents should refrain from giving them peanuts. Otherwise, parents can introduce the foods whenever they see fit, in consultation with their pediatrician. Long story short, if an infant is likely to be mildly allergic, introducing peanuts within the first year is the best way to ensure that they overcome the allergy.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases explained, "So if it's severe, go to an allergist. If it's not severe, give [peanut-containing foods], but give it at 6 months." According to the most recent studies, this is the best way to prepare a child's immune system for allergens and prevent persisting allergies throughout their lives.
The new guidelines are based on the LEAP study, which was organized by the Immune Tolerance Network. It is, so far, the largest, randomized prevention trial for peanut allergies and so, as Fauci said, is "definitive." One of the inspirations for the trial was the custom of Israeli parents giving their infants food with peanuts in it — not an actual nut, obviously, but peanut butter or peanut-based food; Israeli children have the lowest incidences of peanut allergies.
So the LEAP researchers tried to imitate this in their study. Researchers gathered 600 children at high risk for peanut allergies and put them randomly in two groups. One group was given food with low traces of peanuts in it three times a week until they were five. The other group had no peanuts at all until they were five. The group that had peanuts all along was less likely to develop an allergic reaction by the time they were 5 years old.
Of course, parents should consult with their pediatrician if they think that their child is at risk of being allergic to any food and work together on crafting a plan to introduce foods. But feeding children peanuts early on may save them from a life of being allergic to foods containing nuts — and who wants to miss out on PB&J sandwiches?