Until 2017, most parents would never have thought of walnuts or pistachios as one of a baby’s first foods. But recent research has made it clear there is no reason to delay feeding babies the foods they are going to eat later in life.
In fact, exposure to foods in infancy is the single best way we have today to reduce a child’s risk of developing an allergy.
That’s right. After the LEAP study proved that babies could cut their risk of a peanut allergy by 80% simply by eating peanuts 3 times a week, the EAT study showed the same effect across multiple different foods.
While there have been no clinical studies done specifically on, say, reducing the risk of almond allergies, several other studies have consistently shown that getting foods into a baby’s diet will teach their body to tolerate that food.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reversed their previous guidance to avoid nuts until age 3 and now says that there is no evidence to support the delayed introduction of nuts, or any other food.
Are Doctors Going to Change Their Minds Again?
The old guidelines to avoid nuts until age 3 were not actually based on any clinical data. Beginning in the 1990s, food allergy rates started going up and up. Doctors didn’t know what was causing it, and simply decided the best way to keep babies safe might be to avoid nuts until they were older.
Then doctors noticed that peanut allergy rates were really low in societies and cultures where babies ate peanuts right from the start. So they did a huge clinical study called the LEAP study and proved that eating peanuts early and often lowered peanut allergy rates.
Now, doctors recommend practicing early introduction with peanuts to lower your baby’s risk of developing a peanut allergy. This isn’t just some fluke, either. The evidence for eating peanut containing foods early and often is very strong, and has been replicated many times. Doctors have also shown WHY eating peanut early protects a baby - it’s like training wheels for a baby’s stomach.
In 2019 the CHILD study validated this new policy by proving that low risk babies were 4 times more likely to develop a peanut allergy if they did not have early and regular exposure to peanuts.
The new guidelines are definitely here to stay.
This Applies to Tree Nuts Too
As we mentioned above, multiple studies have shown introducing babies to any food early reduces their risk of developing an allergy to that food, tree nuts included.
The most difficult thing about advising parents to introduce tree nuts to their baby is that it’s actually more than 8 different foods. A child might be allergic to any one or more than one of the tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, brazil nuts, pistachios, pine nuts, pecans, etc). And we know that some allergies tend to group together.
Parents have enough to do without fussing about serving their baby 1,000 different things 3 times a week. There are three important rules to remember:
- Focus on the nuts that you keep in your house. Do you eat protein bars with almonds? Maybe cashews in salads? Or live near a pecan farm? Babies are most likely to develop allergies if they are around foods that they are not eating. Start with those nuts.
- Some nuts have the superpower of helping the body tolerate multiple nuts. We made Lil Mixins Tree Nut Mixin with almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios because studies have shown that eating those four can provide the training wheels for all tree nuts.
- Feed your baby a low sugar, diverse diet. Even if you can’t sneak walnuts into your baby’s meals, simply feeding your baby high fiber, low sugar foods is the best way to help them develop a healthy gut and immune system, which can lower their risk for food allergies.
So When Can Babies Eat Tree Nuts?
Don’t be scared to introduce your baby to all the different kinds of nuts. Over 99% of babies are considered low risk of developing a food allergy, and studies show that 6-10 months old is the critical window to train a baby’s immune system.
About 1% of babies, those with severe eczema, and/or other food allergies, are considered at higher risk of developing new food allergies. Even so, every study has shown that babies at higher risk of developing a food allergy stand as good of a chance of avoiding the allergy if they being eating a food early and often.
If the tree nuts are prepared safely, babies can begin eating nuts as soon as they have tolerated one or two other solids like baby cereal, usually around 4-6 months old.
The key words are “prepared safely.” Whole nuts are an obvious choking hazard -- even for adults. Nut meals leave in the skins which get easily stuck in a baby’s throat, and tree nut butters are way too thick for babies to swallow.
All of this is ignoring how expensive almonds & pistachios can be.
The safest ways to feed a baby tree nuts when they are 4-10 months old are to thin nut butters with formula or breastmilk, or use Lil Mixins Tree Nut Powder Mixin.
Based on everything we know about which children are at higher risk of having food allergies, it is becoming clear that all babies should eat as many proteins as possible, regularly, in infancy to train their stomachs to tolerate those foods.
Infants 4- 6 month old at:
- Low Risk: Babies no eczema, no known food allergies, and little family history of allergic disease, are at low risk of developing a tree nut allergy. They should start eating nuts regularly soon after they start solid foods.
- Medium Risk: Babies with mild eczema that responds to emollients or those who have a family history of food allergies or allergic disease are at medium risk. They should start eating nuts regularly soon after they start solid foods. Parents may want to speak with their doctor first, and even ask if a serving of nuts could be given at the 6 month well visit.
- High Risk: Babies with eczema that requires prescription drugs, a known food allergy, or both should see a doctor to get tested for an existing sensitization to nuts.
- Babies who are not sensitized should begin eating those foods 3 times a week starting between 4-6 months old.
- Babies who are sensitized, but pass a food challenge, should begin eating those safe nuts 3 times a week starting between 4-6 months old.
Only babies with a developed allergy (less than 0.5% of babies) should avoid those nuts.
How to Introduce Your Baby to Nuts Safely
Whole nuts and crushed nuts are a choking hazard for babies just getting used to solids. Do not try to chop nuts at home using a food processor. You may get to small pieces, but larger chunks will be hidden.
There are two safe ways you can feed a baby tree nuts:
- Mix 2 scoops or 1 packet of Lil Mixins Tree Nut Mixin into their food. It contains no added sugar, no salt, and is made from almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, & pistachios.
- Thin 2 teaspoons of almond / cashew / walnut butter with warm breastmilk or formula. Allow the mixture to cool. Feed baby the nut soup or stir the soup into baby food.
The first time you feed your baby any new food, do it at a time where you will be near your baby and able to monitor them for the next 2-4 hours. Allergic reactions usually occur within 2 hours of the meal, but it can be longer.
Never feed your baby the first serving of any food at night, or when they are away from you at daycare or a grandparents house.
There is no need to wait 3 days between new foods, but it is smart to introduce the common allergens — dairy, peanut, egg, tree nut, wheat — for the first time without mixing them together.
Almost all allergic reactions in babies look like redness around the mouth, hives, or vomiting. If you see an allergic reaction, talk to your pediatrician before feeding a food again.