Are We Destined For A World Without Peanut Butter?
I’m hopeful that no, we’re not. Key word being hopeful.
But things feel pretty dire at the moment. No peanut butter in school at all? Seriously? I remember LIVING off of peanut butter sandwiches while in school. Primary AND Secondary school. Ok and university, if I’m being honest. How do kids deal now? How do parents deal???
Obviously there are alternatives now like almond butter, though many schools ban nuts completely, since the allergy usually includes all tree nuts. Technically, peanuts aren’t actually nuts, they’re legumes. But the protein structure is a lot like that of tree nuts, so kids tend to be allergic to both.
I feel for the kids who have to live a nut-free life, and carry an epi-pen with them everywhere. I’m sure that’s got to be scary. And I really feel for the parents who’ve had to go through the unbelievably scary episode of finding out your child is deathly allergic to nuts.
Just listen to Jordana Horn from Kveller.com as she recounts the horror, “My 3-year-old daughter almost died last Thursday…to see the bubbling, growing hives all over her hips and thighs. Then she vomited three more times…”
She goes on to give a warning to parents, “Please err on the side of not serving known allergens on playdates with younger kids — the risks are just not worth it. Because even if your kid’s playmate didn’t have a reaction, it’s possible she could bring home peanut-covered hands to a house where her sibling has an allergy, resulting in equally scary circumstances….Yes, peanut butter is delicious. But no matter how much your child likes a snack, it’s not worth the risk.”
Reports of peanut allergies seem to be skyrocketing. “A study from the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital found that from 1997 to 2008, peanut allergies tripled from 1-in-250 children to 1-in-70.” From CNBC.
It’s not just in the US, as the BBC states: “There was a five-fold increase in peanut allergies in the UK between 1995 and 2016.”
But there’s hope.
Research now says it’s better to expose your children to peanuts and other potential allergens at an early age (we’re talking months). A great podcast on this listen is the Freakonomics episode The Data-Driven Guide to Sane Parenting where economist Emily Oster discusses the topic with Stephen Dubner. She mentions that if you’re scared to test out peanuts on your new baby, go to the emergency clinic, then give it to him or her there. That way you’re as close to care as needed. But she stresses that chances are good your child will be fine, as long as you don’t have any family history of the allergy.
Oster also believes that the increase in allergies is due to professionals erroneously telling parents not to give their kids any peanuts until they’re older. So now that people are being told the opposite, things may change.
There is research to back up her comments. From the BBC, “It is thought that eating trigger foods during weaning can lead to a healthy response and prevent the allergy developing, because the gut’s immune system is prepared to tolerate bacteria and foreign substances, such as food.
This was the basis for King’s College London’s LEAP Study, which showed about an 80% reduction in peanut allergy in five-year-old children who regularly ate peanut from the year they were born.
This study led to changes in US guidelines about peanut consumption in infancy.”
Doctors are also now giving people with peanut allergies extremely tiny doses of peanut (ie. 1/100th of a peanut) in small, slow increments to ween them off the allergy, and it seems to be working, or at least helping. For more on what doctors and drug companies are doing, read this article.
For now, I’ll keep eating peanut butter, especially during pregnancy, so that my baby will have some exposure to it. I plan to feed my child peanut butter when she’s quite young. We don’t have any family history of such allergies so it shouldn’t be a problem anyway, but better safe than sorry.
I’ll also be more aware of the dangers for other children who do happen to be allergic. No one wants a child to die, and certainly not from something so preventable.