In this article I discuss the current thinking on how to prevent food allergies in kids and share my experience introducing common allergens to my kid.
I get my info from Robin Nixon Pompa and her wonderful little book Allergy-Free Kids. Nixon Pompa stresses:
“feed your kid allergens early, carefully, and often.”Robin Nixon Pompa, Allergy-Free Kids: The Science-Based Approach to Preventing Food Allergies
I love her book. I recommend it for folks wanting a simple and straightforward story on preventing food allergies in their kids told by a passionate and clear-thinking mom. (My favourite kind of book.)
If you’d rather I just give you the gist than hunting down the book, read on!
A few days after our baby turned four months old it was my husband’s birthday and our baby ate a piece of his birthday cake.
Our baby was sitting in my husband’s arms like the snuggly monkey he is when he reached out, put his fist into the cake and then put his cake-covered fist inside his mouth.
His eyes dilated like a cartoon frog licking a mushroom. It was so cute.
As I watched him enjoy his first cake all I could think about was how his love of cake was helping him prevent egg and dairy allergies! And how poetic it is that cake is such an important food for preventative health – I knew my heart wasn’t leading me astray when it told me to love cake!
I learned that Cake is a Baby Superfood from Robin Nixon Pompa in Allergy-Free Kids where she shares how she “cured” her daughter’s life-threatening egg and nut allergies with cake.
Nixon Pompa is a science journalist and mom. Her kids’ pediatrician, Gideon Lack — the cake prescriber — happened to be researching the rise in food allergies in industrialized countries when Nixon Pompa’s daughter presented to his office for food allergies.
Dr. Lack’s research started after he presented at a conference in Israel. He asked his audience of physicians to raise their hand if they had a patient in their practice with a nut allergy. “Something like three hands shot up.”
He was confused — when he gave the same talk back home in the UK every hand went up. He decided to investigate the cause of the discrepancy.
In 2008 he conducted a large, observational study of 10 000 Jewish children, half in the UK and half in Isreal, living in ethnically and economically similar neighbourhoods.
He found that the rate of peanut allergies was more than ten times greater in the London area. Other allergies were more prevalent as well: “tree nuts were fourteen times more prevalent, sesame five times more, milk and egg two to three times more.” (Nixon Pompa 42)
“The answer,” Nixon Pompa tells us, “lay in the popular Israeli snack food called Bamba.”
(Bamba is like a Cheeto but covered in peanut butter instead of cheese. It’s very good.)
“Parents from both countries in the study were surveyed and the researchers quickly learned that the main difference between the two cohorts was the timing in which peanuts were introduced.
In Israel, infants had consumed peanut protein, usually via the peanut butter and puffed corn snack Bamba, before they were six months of age, where as in England peanut products were not usually introduced until after the age of one.” (NP 42)
Bamba is popular on a level hard to imagine in North America. Bamba occupies 25% of the entire Israeli snack market. Several clients have joked to me that Bamba was their first word.
There is no Bamba to purchase in my little town so I’ve been improvising by rubbing peanut butter on my kid’s Sophie since he was four months old. He goes *nuts* for it. I am relieved! But also, I can see how I’m a little nuts too.
Stats on Food Allergies
It’s worthwhile to eat to prevent food allergies in kids.
Nixon Pompa outlines that previous generations have not had to worry about food allergies like we have. Food allergies rose 50 percent between 1997 and 2011 alone, according to the CDC. Today one in ten kids has a food allergy.
Something in our lifestyle has got us to this point. Researchers think it is likely a combination of three risk factors:
- not enough sunshine due to indoor lifestyle (Vitamin D helps our immune system function properly);
- lack of exposure to pathogens and friendly microbes due to our ultra-clean lives;
- and delayed introduction of food allergens.
There was actually a time not too long ago – 1997 – when it was recommended to wait until two years of ago to introduce common allergens like nuts and eggs and one year for dairy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said this!
I can’t for the life of me find where they got their research. Like many medical guidelines it seems like this recommendation was made on a whim by some high up people… I should write a blog on that.
Rx: “slice of cake to be eaten every evening”
Back to the cake.
In order to “cure” Nixon Pompa’s daughter of her egg allergy Dr. Lack prescribed a slice of cake every evening.
The cake was to be baked with one egg so her daughter was exposed to a small amount of her allergen (egg) every night. Nixon Pompa was to up the number of eggs in the cake every couple of months.
Like a little cake vaccine.
At the time of writing her book, Nixon Pompa reported that her daughter was free of all food allergies and able to eat an omelette. She credits the cake!
She also recommends baking with your kids as a fun and pleasurable way to expose them to allergens “early, carefully, and often.” I loved baking with my mother and allomothers and can’t wait to do this with my baby.
Nixon Pompa, Robin. Allergy-Free Kids: The Science-Based Approach to Preventing Food Allergies. New York: Harper Collins, 2017.