Groundbreaking new research has upended feeding recommendations for infants when it comes to peanut foods. No longer should parents withhold the introduction of peanut foods from their infants until toddlerhood. In fact, new guidelines from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) now recommend feeding peanut foods to infants as early as 4 to 6 months of age, depending on their risk for allergies, to prevent peanut allergy.
Though the recommendations are straight-forward, finding a way to safely introduce peanut foods without presenting a choking hazard from a convenient and nutritious packaged food is an obstacle for some parents. But, a new product from Puffworks®, the makers of a peanut butter puff snack, provides a solution to that dilemma.
Dr. Ron Sunog, is a pediatrician who helped develop Puffworks® baby. He earned his MD at Boston University's accelerated six-year medical program and completed his residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Boston City Hospital. He lives near Boston with his family and has been taking care of infants and children of all ages in pediatric practice for thirty years.
Having long had a special interest in nutrition, he was inspired by the Learning Early About Peanut (LEAP) study to join Puffworks® as medical advisor and help create a way to introduce peanut to infants that both babies and parents will love. We sat down with him to find out more about the new guidelines, and how this product can help make early introduction easier.
Q: What inspired Puffworks® to develop an infant-specific version of their peanut puff snack?
A: The desire to help reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy through early introduction of peanut to infants in a safe-to-eat snack.
Q: What should parents know about the new guidelines from NIH about feeding peanut foods early to prevent peanut allergies?
A: The simple goal is to reduce an infant’s risk of developing peanut allergy. The reason guidelines changed is simple. At some point around 2000, experts said that parents should intentionally withhold peanuts from infants thinking that would reduce their risk of developing peanut allergy. Over the subsequent years, the number of kids with peanut allergy grew enormously. By around 2008, it was clear that withholding peanut food had not done anything good. In fact, experts started to believe that withholding peanut was at least part of the reason kids were developing peanut allergy at a greater rate.
First really important point—we have known since around 2008 that feeding peanut foods (like thinned out peanut butter) to infants, in general, is safe. That's the first point parents really ought to be aware of.
Second, the LEAP study showed that feeding peanut [foods] to infants can reduce their risk of developing peanut allergy.
Third is, infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy are at higher risk of developing peanut allergy. Some are allergic before they've ever eaten [peanut foods]. Because of that, parents really need to understand the new guidelines, and if their child is at high risk they need to speak to their health care provider first.
It's really only a small percentage of infants who are at high risk. The majority of infants are able to eat peanut foods without any concerns, and experts agree that it's a good idea for them to start eating peanuts from an early age.
Q: How does the Puffworks® baby product provide a solution for parents concerned about how to safely introduce peanut foods to their infant?
A: When introducing peanut [foods] to infants, it has to be safe to eat in the sense that the infant won't choke.* Puffworks® baby peanut butter puffs are the lightest puff available with no risk of choking.
Our puff was specially formulated to be 100% organic and non-GMO. The corn is also made with whole grain. It has only three ingredients: peanut butter, which is the number one ingredient and well over 50% of the product, corn, and a little salt.
On top of that, of course, these are great for infants to hold, in terms of their size and shape, so they can begin learning how to feed themselves. And, they taste great, so that they'll keep eating them.
Q: What challenges are there for getting parents to introduce peanut foods early?
A: One thing I've learned over the past couple of years is that when people learn something, even if it is incorrect, it is often difficult to unlearn it. The key, basically, is education.
The LEAP study is pretty clear. The experts are telling the practicing pediatric providers about the new information. It has to go from the pediatric providers to the parents, properly educating them that the old information was wrong. And, helping them understand that with new research, advice over time can change and should change for the better. That's what has to take place here. It’s just a matter of education.
Q: What additional advice do you have for parents looking to introduce peanut foods to their infant to prevent peanut allergy, and considering Puffworks® baby as a convenient solution?
A: First off, if your infant is at high risk, which is to say your infant has severe eczema and/or egg allergy, absolutely see your pediatric provider and figure out if they are safe to have a peanut food. And, if so, give them that peanut food, because those kids are at particularly high risk for developing an allergy.
For everyone else, which is about 97% of kids, although the risk is lower the risk still exists. When it comes to an intervention that is this simple and safe, it's just a nutritious food, and parents should be aware of that and should feed peanut foods to their infant.
Lastly, regarding Puffworks® baby specifically, puff snacks are really popular with parents. They are portable, and kids like them, the infants like them. There is no puff snack that is nutritionally superior to Puffworks® baby. So, it's a good way for infants to start peanut foods.
Visit PreventPeanutAllergies.org for more resources about early introduction to peanut foods.
* Whole peanuts should not be given to children younger than age three. Peanut butter should be thinned with water, breastmilk or formula or stirred into prepared infant cereal or purees before being given to infants.