The truth about pregnancy, nuts and your child’s allergy risk

Until recently, doctors advised pregnant women to steer clear of nuts. But a new study suggests a compelling reason to get cracking instead. Kids whose moms ate the most nuts during pregnancy were least likely to develop peanut or tree nut allergies later on.

The reason? By snacking on nuts, moms-to-be are also exposing their child to them. And contrary to prior beliefs, doing so at this early stage may increase – not decrease – your little one’s tolerance.

Nut allergies on the rise

“Peanuts pose a danger to an increasing number of children,” says Leigh Ann Kerns, MD, pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “In fact, rates of this dangerous – and even life-threatening – reaction have tripled in the past several years. Now, about 1.4 percent of kids cannot eat peanuts, and many have allergies to tree nuts such as almonds and walnuts.”

Many adults have nut allergies, too. If you are among them, the results of this study do not apply: The findings suggest the opposite may be true for allergic women – eating nuts during pregnancy may increase your child’s allergy risk. Furthermore, severe allergic reactions may pose a risk to unborn babies.

“Talk with your doctor about the best way to manage your allergic reactions when you are expecting,” advises Dr. Kerns. “And take extra care to avoid exposure by reading food labels, asking questions at restaurants and frequently washing your hands.”

Eat a healthy pregnancy diet

Women in the study whose kids had the lowest allergy risk consumed nuts five or more times per week. Nutrition agencies generally consider one serving of nuts to equal 1 ounce, which is about 23 almonds, 14 walnut halves or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.

The study authors stop short of prescribing daily doses of peanut butter to pregnant women. “Eating nuts cannot guarantee an allergy-free child,” says Dr. Kerns. “However, the findings suggest that if you enjoy nuts and can safely eat them, there is no reason to give them up during pregnancy.”

In fact, the protein, fiber and healthy fats in nuts can serve as part of a healthy pregnancy diet. And increasingly, studies suggest people who regularly eat nuts reduce their risk for heart disease.

Dr. Kerns suggests eating nuts along with other nutritious foods, including:

  • Whole grains. This includes oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and brown rice.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Eat a wide variety to get all the nutrients you and your baby need.
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Try yogurt, milk and cheese. But skip soft cheeses and other unpasteurized products, which can contain a type of bacteria called listeria that is very dangerous for you and your baby. Check labels for the phrase “made with pasteurized milk.”
  • Other healthy sources of protein. Choose eggs, peas, tofu, poultry, fish and lean cuts of meat.

Eating for two

Find more information on nutrition during pregnancy at UHhospitals.org/HealthyPregnancy.

Leigh Kerns

LEIGH ANN KERNS, MD
Pediatric Allergy and Immunology Specialist, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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