How early should babies eat peanuts to prevent allergies?
Last year, the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study found, somewhat counter-intuitively, that introducing peanut products into the diets of children at high-risk for peanut allergy actually helped prevent the onset of peanut allergy.
Based on those results, the National Institutes of Health is currently devising guidelines for pediatricians that recommend babies start eating peanut products when they’re 4 to 6 months old. And now dieticians can feel positive about that recommendation: A new analysis of the LEAP results finds that early introduction of peanut-containing foods does not compromise breast-feeding or children’s nutrition.
There were some concerns during the LEAP trial that early peanut introduction might affect children’s health in unexpected ways. “If you introduce peanut-containing foods at an early age in relatively high amounts, compared to what they used to eat, would it make children gain weight or affect what else they were eating?” asks Mary Feeney of King’s College London, the lead dietician for the LEAP study.
In that study, 640 infants at high risk for peanut allergy, ages 4 to 11 months, were randomly assigned to either consume 6 grams (0.2 ounces) of peanut protein per week or avoid peanut altogether. Clinicians followed the children until they were 5 years old, and tracked the onset of any allergies as well as their general health.
For the nutrition study, Feeney analyzed that data in conjunction with weight and height data and information from food diaries kept by the children’s parents during the trial. She and colleagues found that the introduction of peanut protein, even as early as 4 months old, did not affect the duration of breast-feeding. And there were no differences in growth or weight among children who ate peanut from an early age versus those who avoided peanut.
“Even the children who had the highest peanut intake — who really developed a liking for it — had no differences compared to the ones who avoided it,” says Feeney. “That’s really reassuring, that it’s safe. They don’t become overweight or obese.”
There were some differences in the diets of the children, she noted. Peanut consumers tended to eat more fat, while avoiders ate more carbohydrates, yet overall protein and energy intake was the same between the two groups.
“The new results provide reassurance that early-life peanut consumption has no negative effect on children’s growth and nutrition,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded the study, said in a statement.
The research group also recently released results from the follow-up LEAP-On study, which asked LEAP participants to avoid peanut consumption for one year. Twelve months of abstaining from peanut consumption did not lead to an increase in allergy among those children, so it appears that tolerance is maintained without continuous peanut consumption, the authors concluded.