Washington | Eating peanuts during infancy does not affect a child’s growth and nutritional intake, a new study suggests. Researchers wanted to determine whether eating high doses of peanut products beginning in infancy would have any adverse effects on infant and child growth and nutrition.
The new results provide reassurance that early-life peanut consumption has no negative effect on children’s growth and nutrition, said Anthony S Fauci from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the US.
The results of a previous Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) trial showed that introducing peanut products into the diets of infants deemed at high risk for peanut allergy led to an 81 per cent relative reduction in subsequent development of the allergy compared to avoiding peanut altogether.
At the beginning of the LEAP trial, researchers randomly assigned 640 infants aged 4 to 11 months living in the UK to regularly consume at least 2 grammes of peanut protein three times per week or to avoid peanut entirely. These regimens were continued until the children were 5 years old.
Researchers monitored the children at recurring health care visits, and asked their parents and caregivers to complete dietary questionnaires and food diaries. In the current study, researchers compared the growth, nutrition and diets of the LEAP peanut consumers and avoiders.
Many of the participants were breastfeeding at the beginning of LEAP. An important and reassuring finding was that peanut consumption did not affect the duration of breastfeeding, thus countering concerns that introduction of solid foods before six months of age could reduce breastfeeding duration, said Mary Feeney from King’s College London in the UK.
Researchers did not observe differences in height, weight or body mass index – a measure of healthy weight status – between the peanut consumers and avoiders at any point during the study. This was true even when researchers compared the subgroup of children who consumed the greatest amount of peanut protein with those who avoided peanut entirely.
In general, the peanut consumers easily achieved the recommended level of 6 grammes of peanut protein per week, consuming 7.5 grammes weekly on average. They made some different food choices than the avoiders, researchers noted.
For example, consumers ate fewer chips and savoury snacks. Both groups had similar total energy intakes from food and comparable protein intakes, although the peanut consumers had higher fat intakes and avoiders had higher carbohydrate intakes.
Overall, these findings indicate that early-life introduction of peanut-containing foods as a strategy to prevent the subsequent development of peanut allergy is both feasible and nutritionally safe, even at high levels of peanut consumption, said Marshall Plaut from NIAID.