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Vital Signs: Pregnant Women Can Eat Peanuts/Tree Nuts Without Worry


A recently-released study has eased fears about whether it’s safe for pregnant women to eat peanuts and tree nuts like walnuts, almonds and pecans. Dr. Sheri Puffer, an OB/GYN at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, discusses the results with KERA’s Sam Baker in this installment of Vital Signs.

The study in JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) Pediatrics says pregnant women eating nuts won’t increase the chances of their children developing allergies. In fact, the study supports the hypothesis that early allergen exposure increases tolerance and lowers risk of childhood food allergy.

However, Dr. Sheri Puffer says the study does indicate women with a history of such allergies should avoid eating peanuts and tree nut allergies, and that women should discuss this issue with their doctor.

Things To Know About Peanut/Tree Nut Allergies

  • According to Food Allergy Resource and Education or FARE, peanut and tree nut allergies are among the most common food allergies. Peanuts and tree nuts can cause a severe, potentially fatal, allergic reaction (anaphylaxis.)
  • Allergy to peanuts appears to be on the rise in children. According to a FARE-funded study, the number of children in the U.S. with peanut allergy more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. Studies in the United Kingdom and Canada also showed a high prevalence of peanut allergy in schoolchildren.
  • Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts tend to be lifelong, although studies indicate approximately 20 percent of children with peanut allergy do eventually outgrow their allergy. Nine percent for children with tree nut allergy.  Younger siblings of children allergic to both may be at increased risk for allergy Your doctor can provide guidance about testing for siblings.
  • Tree nuts include, but are not limited to, walnut, almond, hazelnut, cashew, pistachio, and Brazil nuts. These are not to be confused or grouped together with peanut, which is a legume, or seeds, such as sunflower or sesame.
  • A person with an allergy to one type of tree nut has a higher chance of being allergic to other types. Therefore, many experts advise patients with allergy to tree nuts to avoid all nuts. Patients may also be advised to also avoid peanuts because of the higher likelihood of cross-contact with tree nuts during manufacturing and processing.

4 Tips for Avoiding Nuts

  • Beware of cross-contact. Foods that don’t contain peanuts or tree nuts can get contaminated if they are prepared in the same place or using the same equipment. Foods sold in the U.S. must say this on the label. Cross-contamination also occurs in ice cream parlors because of shared scoopers and other equipment.
  • Check the label each time you buy a product. Manufacturers sometimes change recipes, and a trigger food may be added to the new one.
  • Look for peanuts outside the kitchen. In addition to foods, nuts can be in lotions, shampoos, and pet food. Check labels before you buy or use them.
  • Carry an Auvi-Q or Epi-Pen (epinephrine shot). Carry it with you at all times and know how to inject it. For some people, an allergic reaction to nuts can quickly become life-threatening, so always be prepared.
Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.