In a recent KidsDr.com website article, Pediatrician, Sue Hubbard, writes about “Food Myths & Your Baby.” Dr. Hubbard emphasizes the need to introduce a variety of foods to children when they start eating solid foods. The myths relate to a nonexistent “forbidden” foods list parents should avoid in order to prevent their child from having an allergic reaction.
New recommendations, from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), support Dr. Hubbard’s encouragement of including foods such as wheat, milk, eggs, fruits, nuts and shellfish in your child’s diet.
In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued guidelines that suggested children should put off having milk until age 1, eggs until age 2 and peanuts, shellfish and nuts until age 3. However, in 2008 the AAP revised those guidelines citing little evidence that delays prevented the development of food allergies. It didn’t say when and how to introduce such foods though.
The AAAAI’s recommendations address those concerns by suggesting foods that are considered highly allergic be slowly introduced –in small amounts- after first foods such as cereals, fruits and vegetables have been eaten and tolerated. Babies can be introduced to the more allergic type foods as long as they are prepared correctly. Foods should be mushy and easy for an infant to eat or in the case of eggs and fruits cut into very small pieces.
"There's been more studies that find that if you introduce them early it may actually prevent food allergy," said David Fleischer, co-author of the article and a pediatric allergist at National Jewish Health in Denver. "We need to get the message out now to pediatricians, primary-care physicians and specialists that these allergenic foods can be introduced early."
The theory behind introducing foods, that are considered the most likely to cause an allergic reaction, early and in small doses is that children may actually be able to build up immunity to them. If introduction is delayed, their immune systems may treat them as foreign substances and attack them, resulting in an allergy.
Dr. Fleischer believes more study results are needed before there is any conclusive evidence that early introduction actually prevents allergies. There are several trials currently under way and the highly anticipated results should be available next year.
Lots of children suffer from food allergies. In the U.S. approximately 6 million children or 8% have one or more food allergies. They also seem to be on the rise and experts are not sure why. One possible explanation from some experts is that westernized countries have become more hygienic. Children don't have the same exposure to germs, which affects the development of the immune system.
Vitamin D may also play a role. In a study out this week in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers took blood samples from more than 5,000 babies and found that those with low vitamin D levels were three times more likely to have a food allergy.
The new recommendations from the AAAAI committee say an allergist should be consulted in cases when an infant has eczema that is difficult to control, or an existing food allergy. For children who have a sibling with a peanut allergy—and have a 7% greater risk of a peanut allergy—parents may request an evaluation but the risks of introducing peanut at home in infancy are low, the recommendations noted.
Food allergies can cause severe reactions and should never be taken lightly. If you are interested in introducing highly allergic food into your child’s diet – to give your child’s immune system a boost- talk with your pediatrician about his or hers recommended method.