The transition to solid foods can be an exciting journey for many parents. But, for others, especially those who have food allergies in their close-knit family, this can be a huge stressor and can really instill fear when they start thinking about introducing some of the highly allergenic foods. With food allergies, and intolerances, becoming more and more common in babies and children, this only fuels the fire! Naturally, as parents we want to do everything we can to protect our babies. Exposing them to highly allergenic foods can seem like just the opposite when the risks can be so high.
There are currently 10 foods that are considered to be common allergens in Canada and the US. But of those 10 foods, peanuts are considered to be the top culprit when it comes to food allergies! Tree nut allergies have also been growing in numbers. I know as a parent how stressful it can be to find the courage to take the first steps and introduce peanuts and tree nuts to your baby. With all the “unknowns” when you start this process, this is totally expected, and okay! My goal today is to help ease your stress, make this an easy process, and offer you some guidance. If you’re looking for some advice on all the common allergens, including how and when to introduce them – check out my blog post on Introducing Highly Allergenic Foods, which covers all 10 top allergens.
Peanuts and tree nuts – not related after all!
Out of the top 10 most allergenic foods in Canada, peanuts come out on top. Peanuts are actually not considered a nut at all (surprising, I know!), and are part of the legume family, which includes soybeans (think tofu), dried beans, and fresh peas. This means they technically aren’t related to tree nuts at all, and are grown on the ground.
Almonds, cashews, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, and macadamia nuts are all considered tree nuts. If you have a tree nut allergy, that doesn’t mean you’re allergic to all of them, but being allergic to one, greatly increases your risk of being allergic to others. If you’re allergic to any tree nuts, it can also increase your risk of being allergic to peanuts, and vice versa, even though they’re technically different.
The “science” behind the allergic reaction
So with all this talk about tree nuts and peanuts, you may be wondering “What actually causes the allergic reaction?”. Peanuts and tree nuts are made up of proteins. When we eat them, and begin to digest them, the proteins are broken down and used for many functions in our body. Unfortunately, sometimes our body doesn’t view these proteins as normal parts of our food, and the immune system thinks they’re an “invader”. And so, your body’s immune system produces antibodies, to respond to what the body believes is the foreign particle, and is ultimately why we see these symptoms happen right after we start digesting our food.
It’s now known that there is some cross-reactivity between some types of tree nuts, meaning they’re similar to one another on a protein level. This can actually increase your risk of being allergic to both of them! The common examples are: cashews/pistachios and walnuts/pecans. This doesn’t mean your child will 100% be allergic to both, but if you do have a diagnosis to one, just be cautious with these pairs. Cashew allergy has been on the rise recently, and Food Allergy Canada is suggesting that parents try to introduce them early, once starting solids, in hopes of decreasing the risk of allergies. Allergy symptoms are also known to be pretty severe in cashews, and it’s advised that if you see any symptoms after the initial introduction, to record them, and talk to your allergist or doctor before introducing them again.
Common allergy symptoms to peanuts and tree nuts
The symptoms of an allergic reaction don’t change, and are generally the same for all allergens. The common symptoms you want to watch out for, include:
- Itching, tingling, or swelling of the mouth, lips, or tongue
- Itchy ears
- Widespread hives on the body
- Trouble breathing, or repetitive cough or wheeze
- Change in skin colour (pale, blue)
- Diarrhea or stool with blood
- Sudden tiredness/lethargy/seeming limp
- A rapid, weak pulse
- Dizziness and fainting
Symptoms bolded in black can be associated with anaphylaxis, which requires an epi-pen, and if you don’t have one with you, call 911 or head straight to the nearest emergency room.
It’s also important to note that even though the symptoms are generally the same for all foods, peanut and tree nut allergies are the most common foods associated with the severe symptoms we see, like anaphylaxis. If your baby develops any symptoms after they eat peanuts or tree nuts, you should consult with your allergist for further testing, as they may require an epi-pen injector. Sometimes an allergy can be so severe that particles in the air can actually trigger an allergic reaction, without coming into contact with the food.
When to introduce them to your baby
If you’ve checked out my previous blog on how to properly introduce highly allergenic foods, you’ll already know the benefit of early introduction, so as a recap, there’s no reason to delay introduction of peanuts and tree nuts once you start solids. The current recommendation for introducing solids is to begin around 6 months of age, and when your baby is showing the signs of readiness. Introducing your baby to peanuts and tree nuts right at this time, can actually help decrease their chances of developing an allergy!
When it comes to introducing allergenic foods, some children are considered to be at higher risk if they have a close relative, like a parent or sibling, with a known food allergy, or if your baby has severe eczema, hay fever, asthma, or another known food allergy themselves. If this is the case, you’ll want to consult with a pediatrician, doctor, or allergist specialist before proceeding. Current recommendations are to start these baby’s a little earlier (around 4-6 months) to help decrease the risk, but your doctor/allergist can confirm this protocol with you.
How to introduce peanuts and tree nuts to your baby
Start with one of the nuts first. Introduce it early in the day so you can monitor for symptoms if they happen. To be safe, and make sure no symptoms were missed the first time, it’s recommended to always reintroduce the same type of tree nuts or peanuts again the following day, around the same time. To make it easy to track any symptoms that may happen, it’s best to wait 1-2 days before switching to a different type, so you can be sure which one is causing any unwanted symptoms!
Now, it’s time to get creative! How you introduce them can depend on what stage, or feeding style, your baby is currently following. If you’re starting off on purees, there are still many options for including them in your baby’s diet!
- You can start with peanut flours, powders, or almond flour, mixed in with a soft puree like apple sauce or yogurt. You can also take peanut or nut butter, water it down with hot water, and then mix this into the purees you’re serving.
- It only takes a tiny amount to be considered an exposure, so you can even take nut/peanut butter directly, water it down a bit so it’s not clumpy (choking hazard) and dab a thin amount on their lips.
- If you’re following baby led weaning, you can use different finger foods as well! You can spread peanut or nut butter very thinly on toast – make sure the bread is lightly toasted so it’s easier to chew, and eliminates the risk of choking. You can also use soft fruits such as bananas for spreading the thin amounts peanut, or other nut butter, on.
- If you’re including baked goods in your baby’s diet, you could use a small amount of almond flour, or peanut flour, as a substitute for some of the regular flour you would be using. I’ve included my recipe for mini banana muffins at the end of this post, they’re made using almond milk and almond flour, and would be perfect for this!
- There are also “puff” snacks that have peanuts in them which are another great finger food option. As an added bonus, they’re the perfect size and shape to help develop eating skills. I also recommend checking out Mission Mighty Me for another great puff option.
- Finally, you can check out Ready, Set, Food! They have an amazing method for introducing your baby to milk, eggs, and peanuts, in a safe and gradual way, using a powder that can be mixed into breastmilk or formula, and food too! It introduces each allergen separately, gradually increasing the dose, until exposure to all 3 has occurred, and then they offer maintenance packets to ensure your baby is continually being exposed. This is great to have, particularly if they aren’t getting those foods in their diet on a regular basis. So simple, it’s an easy way to maintain exposure.
And of course, whole peanuts or tree nuts should never be given to your baby, as this is a choking hazard. Read more about choking hazards for baby here.
Once you’ve successfully introduced them, and haven’t noted any dangerous symptoms, this is good news! You can now keep them in your baby’s diet weekly to help build up a tolerance to them, and decrease the chances of developing an allergy further down the road.
If my child has a peanut or tree nut allergy, will it ever go away?
Unfortunately, the likelihood of your child outgrowing a peanut or tree nut allergy is very slim. Research suggests that only 20% of children will outgrow a peanut allergy by approximately age 5. Children who have an allergy to soy, dairy, or egg, have a higher chance of outgrowing their allergy in childhood, than those with allergies to nuts, because of the severity of the symptoms.
There’s a new therapy called oral immunotherapy that introduces peanuts in the form of a pill (basically a peanut pill), and is used to help reduce the severity of allergic reactions in children who have a known allergy. The pills contain low doses of peanut flour, which are gradually increased over time, to help your child develop a greater tolerance. This doesn’t eliminate the allergy fully, however it could be really helpful in decreasing the severity of the reaction your child has, if they’re accidentally exposed to it.
Finding sources of peanuts and tree nuts for those with an allergy
Peanuts seem to be hiding everywhere, and are quite hard to avoid if you really have to. Besides the obvious natural form, peanuts and tree nuts can be snuck inside many food products, like: baked goods, ice cream, cereal, granola bars, salad dressings, and even cooking sauces. There are also cooking oils that are made from peanuts and various nuts. Just having these foods in your house can be a hazard depending on how severe your baby’s allergy may be. Many packaged foods may also be produced in a facility that has peanuts in it, which can also pose a risk because they may end up on other foods that would otherwise be peanut-free.
So… my #1 piece of advice is: make sure to read food labels!
Food companies are required to include if a food product is made with all of the top allergens, and if they’re made in a facility that has them as well. Doing research on other common names used can also help you figure out if they’re included, once you find the ingredient list on the package. If you’re eating out, make sure to ask staff before ordering your food if they contain them, and if they have any in the building too.
If you’re wondering where to start, and find yourself feeling overwhelmed when thinking of starting the journey to solid foods, and introducing other allergenic foods – I get it! My Baby Led Feeding course includes a full module on introducing common allergenic foods, plus every other food under the sun. I’d love to help ease your fears, and make this a fun process for you and baby! Enroll now to get started!
Mini Banana Muffins
1/2 cup Unsweetened Almond Milk
2 cups Almond Flour
2 tsps Baking Powder
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). Prepare silicone mini muffin cups on a tray, or use a mini silicone muffin tray.
2. In a mixing bowl, mash the bananas with a fork and combine with the remaining ingredients. Pour the batter into the cups and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
3. Remove from the oven and let cool. Enjoy!
Extra Toppings: Top with chia seeds, walnuts (crushed for babies), dried banana slices or hemp seeds.
Storage: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 to 5 days and reheat in the microwave for 10 to 12 seconds.
Serving Size: One serving is equal to one mini muffin.
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