Expectant moms, go nuts -- for nuts, that is. A new study shows that snacking on peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy won’t lead to nut allergies in your child later on.
In fact, it might actually be the contrary. A team led by physicians from Boston Children’s Hospital found that the child of a mother snacking on nuts is much less likely to develop a nut allergy. Their report was published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.
"Assuming she isn't allergic to peanuts, there's no reason for a woman to avoid peanuts during pregnancy,” Boston Children’s physician Michael Young said in a statement.
For many years, women had been advised to avoid eating nuts while pregnant or nursing, but of late the research is starting to sway conventional wisdom in the opposite direction. In 2012, Harvard School of Public Health researchers looked at data on nut intake during pregnancy among nearly 62,000 Danish mothers. They found that a higher peanut intake was associated with a lower risk for asthma in the child later on.
In the current study, Young and colleagues examined medical records for more than 8,000 children, as well as dietary records for their mothers during pregnancy. The rate of peanut allergies was significantly lower among the children whose mothers consumed peanuts during pregnancy compared with the children whose mothers abstained. The study suggests, but does not prove, that such early exposure to potentially allergy-inducing substances like nuts might increase a child’s tolerance for nuts and lower the risk for food allergy.
“We can't say with certainty that eating more peanuts during pregnancy will prevent peanut allergy in children,” Young says. “But we can say that peanut consumption during pregnancy doesn't cause peanut allergy in children."
But for now, the data supports the recent decisions by health organizations – such as the U.K.’s National Health Service -- to rescind recommendations that mothers avoid peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding, Young and colleagues wrote.
In an accompanying editorial, Northwestern University pediatrician and food allergy researcher Ruchi Gupta largely concurred with the assessment of Young and company.
"These findings support recent recommendations that women should not restrict their diets during pregnancy,” Gupta wrote. As long as they’re not already allergic, “pregnant women should not eliminate nuts from their diet as peanuts are a good source of protein and also provide folic acid, which could potentially prevent both neural tube defects and nut sensitization.”
Even those of us who aren’t eating for two should probably feel free to hit up the nut bowl at holiday gatherings. A recent paper (funded in part by a nut industry group) conducted by Harvard researchers concluded that higher nut consumption is associated with a longer life expectancy -- though, as is the case with the current study, whether or not nuts are the actual cause of the beneficial pattern is still unclear.
Still, “mothers-to-be should feel free to curb their cravings with a dollop of peanut butter!" Gupta says.