When my five-year-old and nine-year-old kids were infants, the prevailing rule was that peanuts were a no-no food until age three. Back then, health professionals agreed that delaying peanuts was the best way to stave off a potential food allergy.
New recommendations have toppled that old advice, with research now showing that earlier introduction of peanuts can actually reduce the risk of peanut allergy by up to 80 percent. As soon as a baby starts eating solids, it’s a good idea to introduce peanuts, and it’s safe.
But is it? When news organizations reported on the study, most left out an important detail: You can’t actually feed whole nuts to babies. “I cringed the first time I heard the words ‘Give peanuts to babies,’ on the radio, because no one mentioned that whole peanuts can be very dangerous,” says paediatric ear, nose and throat specialist Blake Papsin, otolaryngologist-in-chief at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
If you’re thinking that this is obvious—that all parents would already know not to feed a whole peanut to their baby—Papsin says otherwise. At least twice a month he’s met with the largely avoidable task of removing a whole peanut that’s been inhaled into a baby’s lungs—and he’s just one doctor in one hospital in the country.
Removing the peanut from the baby’s lungs involves a procedure Papsin describes as “unpleasant.” Left untreated, an inhaled peanut can cause arachidic bronchitis, a lung infection.
On top of the risk of inhalation, there’s also the possibility of choking. While Papsin says it’s uncommon for babies to choke on peanuts because they tend to be too small to get caught in the glottis, other credible sources say peanuts are indeed a choking hazard for littles ones.
But thanks to the aspiration risk alone, babies should absolutely not be fed whole peanuts, says Papsin. “They have no ability to grind hard peanuts into mush and swallow them properly until they have molars.”
How to introduce peanuts to babies the safe way
The idea behind introducing peanuts to babies is to expose them to peanut protein, but you don’t need whole peanuts to do that. Peanut flour, peanut butter and ground or crushed peanuts all contain the necessary protein.
But that doesn’t mean you should scoop a tablespoon of peanut butter onto a spoon and let your baby go at it. This volume of peanut butter, cautions the Peanut Bureau of Canada, can stick in the palate or throat and cause choking.
Here are five delicious ways to safely introduce peanut protein to your baby without using whole peanuts:
- Mix a teaspoon of peanut butter into plain yogurt and serve it with a spoon
- Add peanut butter to pancake or muffin batter
- Sprinkle crushed peanuts on applesauce with cinnamon
- Offer peanut soup
- Blend up a peanut butter and banana smoothie thinned with milk
When introducing any new food to your baby, watch for signs of allergy, such as hives. If such signs appear, stop giving the food and talk to your doctor.