Surprisingly, at least to me, one of the more controversial topics that I receive email about is our listing peanut butter in our article on starting solids. It used to be believed that you should just avoid giving large chunks of peanut butter to younger children, as this was considered a choke hazard, but that it was okay to offer small amounts of smooth peanut butter that was thinly spread. Now, I get many emails from parents who were told by their Pediatrician or allergist to not give their children peanut butter until they are at least 2-3 years old.
The worry about food allergies is the main reason for these new warnings. Although allergies to peanuts are not the most common type of food allergies (allergies to milk and eggs are more common), they can be among the most serious and are usually considered to be the least likely to be outgrown.
It would seem that one of the main reasons to not give peanut butter to your children until they are older is to prevent your child from developing a peanut allergy.
It is often recommended that children who are at high risk of having food allergies, either because
- they have had intolerances or allergies to other foods/formula
- they have other 'allergic type disorders,' such as eczema, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), and/or asthma or family members with these conditions
- they have other family members with food allergies or other 'allergic type disorders'
avoid those foods that cause the most allergies, including cow's milk, citrus fruits and juices, and wheat until 12 months of age, eggs until age 2, and peanuts and shellfish until 3 years of age.
However, if your child is not at risk of having a food allergy, this may not be necessary. Still, some children who are not high risk still have allergic reactions to peanuts, so the only way to avoid an allergic reaction, if you are worried about it, is to avoid peanuts and peanut butter.
As with many things, you have to weigh the benefits of giving your child peanut butter with the risks of an allergic reaction. And peanut butter can be a beneficial food. The American Academy of Pediatrics even includes peanut butter as a snack food for a one year old child in this article on toddler diets and calls peanut butter a healthy snack.
It is believed that peanut allergies are increasing because we are being exposed to peanuts so much, so taking steps to decrease that exposure and possibly prevent a food allergy does make sense. And most allergists do believe that the earlier that you are exposed to a food, the more likely that you may develop an allergy to that food.
So is there any reason to give your younger children peanut butter?
I think the best reason is that most younger children, even those who are very picky eaters, like eating peanut butter and it is a 'good' food, being high in protein, having plenty of calories, no cholesterol, and being rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron, Vitamin E and B Vitamins. Combine some peanut butter thinly spread on a piece of white bread, and you are also getting your child lots of calcium too (from the bread).
Other things to keep in mind:
- Food allergies are much less common than most parents believe, only affecting about 3-6% of children and 1-2% of adults. According to our own Nutrition Survey, 16% of respondants thought their children had food allergies, way above the usual incidence reports. So your child is likely less at risk for developing a food allergy than you believe.
- Your child may very well develop food allergies no matter what you do.
- Allergists are most likely to see kids with allergic diseases (makes sense, right) and so are going to lean towards recommending that you avoid peanuts and other 'allergic' foods.
- While the American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend delaying the introduction of peanuts until a child is 3 years of age, that recommendation is only for 'high-risk infants' and not for all children. Remember that children are considered to at high-risk for developing allergies to peanuts if they have other food allergies or other family members with food allergies.
I am not saying that you have to give your children peanut butter. I don't own a peanut farm and don't receive any subsidies or grants from the peanut lobby or the American Peanut Council, but I do believe that peanut butter can be a nutritious food that most kids like.
I also think that it isn't necessarily a good idea to restrict your children's diet, especially when they are likely already picky eaters. However, even if they aren't at risk for food allergies, if they have a varied diet and aren't very picky, then not giving peanut butter isn't going to do any harm either.
Hopefully this article will give you more information about the risks and benefits of peanut butter and will help you make a healthy decision for your family.
Keep in mind that the best way to avoid food allergies is to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of your child's life (that means no formula supplements and no solid foods), continue to breastfeed until your child is at least 12 months old, avoid peanuts and treenuts while you are pregnant and breastfeeding (especially if your child is high risk), and consider using a hypoallergenic formula (such as Nutramigen or Alimentum) if you do want to supplement breastfeeding with formula.