Introducing your baby to new foods sounds fun — in theory. But when it comes time to actually do it, it can also be kind of scary — especially if you’re introducing a potential allergen, like tree nuts and peanuts.
We get it. And there’s no sugar coating it: You’re going to be nervous the first time. (And probably the second, third, and fourth time, too.)
But here’s a little bit of good news: Early introduction to allergenic food (like nuts) can actually help protect your little one from allergies. So it’s best to introduce them soon after you start feeding your baby solid foods, around 4 to 6 months.
Parents in the United States and other Western countries used to wait to introduce peanuts and tree nuts, such as cashews, almonds, and walnuts.
Then a 2016 study found that in Israel, a country where infants were frequently fed peanuts very early, peanut allergies were rare: The prevalence was just 0.17 percent compared to 1.4 percent in the United States and 1.7 percent in the United Kingdom.
These findings were confirmed with several groundbreaking clinical trials, most notably the LEAP trial. It found that introducing peanut-containing foods to infants between the ages of 4 and 11 months reduced the chances of developing an allergy by more than 80 percent — that’s huge!
This is because your baby’s immune system is developing during this time.
“As the immune system is developing, we want to intentionally introduce highly allergenic foods and continue to expose the immune system to [them] so that the immune system is trained to recognize [them] as ‘friendly’ and not a threat,” explains Dr. Yan Yan, a board certified pediatrician and allergist with Columbia Allergy.
If this doesn’t happen, your baby’s immune system might later perceive nuts as dangerous and overreact, resulting in an allergic reaction.
That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the
The short answer: Unless your baby has a history of eczema or food allergies, they can try nuts shortly after they start solids — as early as 4 to 6 months.
Just make sure that once you start (and they don’t have a reaction), you keep it up.
“Studies suggest sustained exposure is just as important as early introduction,” says Dr. Jessica Hochman, FAAP, board certified pediatrician and member of the scientific advisory board for Ready, Set, Food. “Parents must continue introducing allergens many times a week for several months.”
There are lots of options. You can try giving your baby peanut puffs (e.g., “Bamba” puffs) that are kind of like peanut cheetos and dissolve easily when your baby sucks on them. They can also be dissolved into your baby’s other foods, including breast milk.
You can use nut powders and sprinkle them into your baby’s food, or you can bake with nut flours.
Nut butters (like peanut butter or almond butter) are great too, but it’s important to introduce them safely. Because nut butters can be very thick and sticky, large globs could be choking hazards.
“Spread them thinly on a soft cracker or strip of banana, stir them into oatmeal, add them to yogurt, or thin them out with a little water and offer small amounts at a time on a spoon,” says Megan McNamee, a pediatric registered dietitian nutritionist and co-owner of Feeding Littles.
However you introduce them, just make sure you start with a small amount (roughly 1/4 tsp or less) until you know how your baby will react.
Always buy smooth nut butters without any chunks of nuts. And look for butters and products with as few ingredients as possible.
“Fewer ingredients can make it easier to determine what a child reacted to should an allergic reaction occur after consuming the nut butter,” says Yan.
Fewer ingredients also mean you can avoid added sugars, which are generally recommended you avoid for your child’s first 2 years of life.
You might also want to look for butters with lower sodium content because your baby shouldn’t be getting more than 0.4 grams of sodium daily before they’re 12 months old.
“Whole peanuts and nuts are a choking hazard to children under 4 because if they are not chewed well and are inhaled into the lungs, they can block their air passages,” explains Dr. Florencia Segura, FAAP, a board certified pediatrician with Einstein Pediatrics.
Children have died choking on whole nuts, she adds, because the pieces blocked the whole airway.
In fact, that’s why new guidelines from multiple leading allergy organizations recommend not giving whole nuts to children before their fifth birthday.
In general, “Nuts are a good source of fat, which is important for growth and development,” McNamee says. “They are tasty foods that help us feel satisfied when we eat them.”
That’s partly because they’re also good sources of protein and fiber.
“Walnuts specifically contain more omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain and eye development,” McNamee adds.
Cashews are also a good source of omega fats, as well as copper (which is essential for iron absorption), magnesium, and amino acids that power cell growth.
Meanwhile, almonds are a great source of fiber, plant-based protein, and monounsaturated fats (the same kind of heart-healthy fats found in other superfoods, like avocado and olive oil). They’re also high in other vitamins and minerals, including:
- folate (which is great for metabolism)
- vitamin E
- zinc (a powerful antioxidant)
And as for peanuts?
“Technically peanuts are a legume, but nutritionally they’re considered a nut,” says McNamee.
That’s because they’re an amazing source of fat, iron, protein, and micronutrients like copper, zinc, and vitamins E and B. These nutritional benefits may protect your child’s heart, support their metabolism, and help with brain development.
Nuts are pretty easy to mix into your baby’s food. Here are some easy ideas and recipes:
- Steam apples and walnuts, then puree them together in a food processor with a dash of cinnamon.
- Mix cashew nut butter into baby oatmeal.
- Pulverize almonds in a food processor then dip a banana in the ground almond.
- Puree or mash cooked butternut squash, then stir in some peanut butter.
- Make a smoothie with some fruit (e.g., bananas), breast milk or formula, and a little bit of nut butter.
- Use nut flour to bake baby-friendly treats, such as almond flour biscuits.
Most often, your baby will develop an allergic reaction within minutes to hours after eating nuts.
Symptoms to look for include:
- skin redness or itchy rashes
- hives (red spots that look like mosquito bites)
- trouble breathing
- swelling of the lips and tongue
- sneezing or stuffy nose
- shortness of breath
- coughing or wheezing
- pale skin
- loss of consciousness
- anaphylaxis (which requires immediate medical treatment because it can be life-threatening)
If you notice a mild reaction, call your pediatrician. If your baby develops a severe reaction, call 911 or your local emergency services.
To be extra safe, Yan says he tells parents to have a children’s nonsedating antihistamine, like Children’s Zyrtec, on hand.
In addition, he says, “Whenever you plan to introduce a highly allergenic food to your child for the first time, we recommend picking a time and day that allows for you to closely monitor your child for up to 6 hours for signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.”
Introducing your baby to nuts — or any potential allergen — is scary. It’s normal to feel anxious about it.
But remember: Early and consistent introduction will help protect your baby from severe allergies. And fewer allergies mean less stress later on.