In the U.S., approximately 1 to 2 percent (or more) of the population has a peanut allergy — about 3 million people — a percentage that continues to rise. For instance, in the past two decades, the prevalence of peanut allergies has more than quadrupled, up from 0.4 percent of the U.S. population in 1997 to 1.4 percent in 2008 to more than 2 percent in 2010. (1)
Peanut allergies are more prevalent among children under 3 years old, and the risk of developing a peanut allergy increases to 7 percent for a sibling of a child with a peanut allergy. (2) It’s why peanuts are among the “big eight” food allergies, along with eggs, fish, milk, tree nuts, shellfish, soy and wheat.
What’s really disturbing is that there’s no clear, definitive reason why this common food allergy is on the rise, but new research in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that avoiding peanuts at an early age may be partly to blame.
Thankfully, in January 2017 the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released guidelines for parents and health care professionals to assist in the introduction of peanut-containing foods at an early age. And if you or a family member does suffer from a peanut allergy, there are natural remedies to help ease peanut allergy symptoms as well as peanut butter alternatives to try.
What Is a Peanut?
A peanut is actually a legume crop that is grown for its edible seeds. Unlike most crop plants, peanut pods develop under the ground, which is why peanuts were given the specific name hypogaea, which means “under the earth.” Although peanuts aren’t technically nuts, people tend to place them in the same category as tree nuts such as almonds and walnuts.
In the U.S, peanuts and peanut butter are the most popular “nut” choice. Peanuts and peanut butter support and boost your metabolism and aid fat loss when you consume them with omega-3 foods like flaxseeds and chia seeds. Peanuts serve as a rich source of omega-6 fatty acids, dietary fiber, protein, potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin B6 and magnesium. (3)
A 2010 study published in Nutrients indicates that nut consumption (both peanuts and tree nuts) has been associated with a reduced incidence of coronary heart disease and gallstones in both genders and diabetes in women. Limited evidence also suggests that nuts have beneficial effects on hypertension, cholesterol, cancer and inflammation. (4)
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015 found that nut consumption, particularly peanut consumption, was associated with decreased overall and cardiovascular mortality across different ethnic groups and among individuals from low socioeconomic statuses. (5)
There are some health issues when it comes to eating peanuts and peanut butter. Because peanuts are high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats, they can cause an imbalanced ratio, which is a common issue among Americans today. For this reason, peanut butter can be one of the metabolism death foods that are best to avoid anyway. (6)
Another issue with peanut butter nutrition is that peanuts grow on the ground and they get very moist, causing the development of mycotoxins or mold. The mold on peanuts can grow a fungus called aflatoxin that can affect the health of your gut. Peanuts have been linked to food sensitivities, leaky gut syndrome and a slow metabolism. That’s because aflatoxin can actually compete with probiotics in your gut and thus damage digestive health. This is especially true for peanut butters that aren’t organic. The presence of mold may be a reason why so many children have inflammatory immune reactions to peanuts.
For those of you who don’t have a peanut allergy, avoid the potentially harmful fungi peanuts typically grow by choosing Valencia peanuts or Jungle peanuts. These peanuts are typically not grown in the moisture of the ground; They’re usually grown in bushes off the ground or higher up, and that eliminates the issue with mold.
Peanut Allergy Symptoms
Peanut allergy is one of the most serious of the immediate hypersensitivity reactions to food in terms of persistence and severity. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, peanut allergy symptoms include:
- Itchy skin or hives (could be small spots or large welts)
- An itchy or tingling sensation in or around the mouth or throat
- Runny or congested nose
- Anaphylaxis (less common) (7)
Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening whole-body response to an allergen. This is rare, but it’s a peanut allergy symptom that must be taken seriously. The symptoms of anaphylaxis include impaired breathing, swelling in the throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure, pale skin or blue lips, fainting, dizziness and gastrointestinal issues. It must be treated immediately with epinephrine (adrenaline) or it can be fatal.
In spite of increased recognition and understanding of food allergy symptoms, food is the single most common cause of anaphylaxis seen in hospital emergency departments. It is estimated that about 30,000 food-induced anaphylactic events are seen in U.S emergency departments each year, 200 of which are fatal. Either peanuts or tree nuts cause more than 80 percent of these reactions. (8)
5 Peanut Allergy Remedies
The only absolute cure for a food allergy is to remove the allergen from your diet completely. However, there are natural allergy relief remedies you can utilize to improve peanut allergy symptoms.
Quercetin has been shown to block allergies to certain foods, including peanuts. (9) A study published in the Iranian Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology analyzed the effects of quercetin on rats with peanut sensitivities. Over four weeks, the rats were treated with 50 milligrams of quercetin daily. The researchers found that “quercetin completely abrogated peanut-induced anaphylactic reactions,” concluding that quercetin could suppress peanut allergy symptoms and work as an alternative treatment for similar food allergies. (10)
As scientists research the critical role of intestinal microbiota in the development of immune tolerance, there is more and more interest in the benefits of probiotics. Probiotics are able to re-colonize and restore microflora in the intestinal tract. Several studies have been recently conducted on the role of probiotics in preventing and treating allergic disorders. (11)
A 2005 study conducted at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School in the UK indicates that the management of allergies has been shown with probiotics reducing the incidence of atopic eczema. Probiotic treatment was demonstrated in infants using lactobacillus. (12)
Bromelain has been traditionally used as a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling agent. A 2013 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine tested the efficacy of bromelain against atopic conditions such as asthma, food allergies and dermatitis. Researchers found that bromelain inhibited allergic airway disease and the data provided additional insight into bromelain’s anti-inflammatory and antiallergic properties. These bromelain health benefits may help people with allergies to reduce peanut allergy symptoms and the results of an overactive immune system. (13)
4. Supplement with a Multivitamin
Research has shown that children with multiple food allergies are at a higher risk of poor growth and a deficient vitamin and mineral intake. Studies indicate that children with food allergies are commonly deficient in vitamin D, copper, zinc and selenium. For children with allergies, a 3 to 7 day food diary can point out the possibility of vitamin deficiencies. Making sure that children with food allergies receive the micronutrients they need will help to boost their immune system and regulate their immunological response to allergens. (14)
5. Introduce Peanuts Earlier
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in which 640 infants (at least 4 months old but less than 11 months old) with severe eczema, egg allergy or both were randomly selected to consume or avoid peanuts until 60 months of age, what researchers found was “the early introduction of peanuts significantly decreased the frequency of the development of peanut allergy among children at high risk for this allergy and modulated immune responses to peanuts.” (15) This study suggests that you may be able to reduce the risk of your child developing a peanut allergy simply by introducing peanuts to them at a very young age; however, such a step needs to be done with extreme caution, usually within the supervision of a doctor.
In early 2017, health experts, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, released clinical guidelines to aid in the introduction of peanut-containing foods to infants at an earlier age. The guidelines contain three different suggestions based on the infant’s risk: (16)
- Infants at high risk (infants who have eczema, an egg allergy or both), should have peanut-containing foods as early as four to six months of age. Be sure to check with your infant’s healthcare provider first as he or she may perform an allergy blood test or recommend a specialist based on your child’s health and medical history. The doctor may recommend that these foods be introduced under supervision or not at all.
- Infants with mild to moderate eczema should have peanut-containing foods around six months. This may vary depending on your family’s dietary preferences. Once again, it is important to tell your healthcare provider about your intention to introduce peanut-containing foods as supervision may still be suggested.
- Infants with no eczema or food allergies can be introduced peanut-containing foods freely.
Regardless of the infant’s risk, all infants should start other solid foods before they are introduced to peanut-containing foods. You should also never give infants whole peanuts as they may choke. Instead, try peanut powder or paste in small amounts. (17)
5 Peanut & Peanut Butter Alternatives
The only way to absolutely prevent a peanut allergy from flaring up is to avoid peanuts altogether, which can be disheartening for peanut lovers. Of course, there are healthy alternatives that you can substitute for peanuts or peanut butter. Peanuts are nutrient-rich foods with wide-ranging cardiovascular and metabolic benefits, so alternatives must be able to match these health benefits. Here are some healthy and delicious peanut and peanut butter alternatives:
1. Almonds and Almond Butter
Almonds typically don’t cause as many complications and almonds nutrition helps prevent heart disease, support healthy brain function, maintain skin health, control blood sugar levels, weight loss, increase nutrient absorption, improve digestion, fight inflammation, and maintain dental and bone health. You can simply swap in almond butter to replace peanut butter in almost any recipe, but go for the organic brand in order to avoid potentially harmful additives.
A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that both tree nut (including almonds) and peanut intake was related to lower overall and cause-specific mortality due to health issues such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and neurodegenerative disease. (18)
2. Sunflower Seeds and Sunflower Seed Butter
Sunflower seeds are rich in nutrients like vitamin E, B vitamins, copper, phosphorus, selenium and more. Like nearly all types of nuts and seeds, sunflower seeds are a healthy source of essential fatty acids and they are an excellent source of fiber and amino acids, especially tryptophan. Like peanuts, sunflower seeds help to improve cardiovascular function, reduce inflammation and stabilize body weight.
Sunflower seed butter makes for a great substitute for peanut butter because it is full of healthy fats, protein and it’s highly unprocessed, unlike most non-organic peanut butters on the market.
3. Cashews and Cashew Butter
For the people with peanut allergies that are able to eat tree nuts, cashews are a great option. They are known to improve heart health, support healthy brain functioning and improve digestion. In fact, cashews have been used in traditional medicine systems for centuries to heal various ailments, including poor cardiovascular health and diabetes.
Cashew butter is a great alternative to peanut butter; it is made by soaking and blending cashews. When buying cashews and cashew butter, avoid any products that are made with vegetable oils, sugar and artificial additives.
Tahini is made from ground sesame seeds and it is a great source of essential vitamins and minerals (like B vitamins, magnesium, iron and zinc), plus it is high in healthy fats and amino acids. Sesame seeds that are used to make tahini are high in plant lignans, which help improve blood lipid profiles and can normalize cholesterol and blood pressure. (20)
Tahini makes for the perfect peanut butter substitute because it does not grow mold or fungus, it isn’t highly processed, it contains more minerals than peanuts and sesame seeds are less common allergens. Just like peanut butter, tahini can be used as a spread on crackers, raw veggies or a sandwich. Keep in mind that both tahini and peanut butter are high in omega-6 fatty acids so you want to eat them in moderation.
5. Pumpkin Seeds
Instead of snacking on peanuts, try pumpkin seeds. They are packed with unsaturated fatty acids and high levels of antioxidants. Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent way to obtain zinc, providing 44 percent of your daily value with just 1 cup. Like peanuts, pumpkin seeds are high in protein and they also provide 11 grams of dietary fiber per cup. Studies have found that consuming pumpkin seeds, and even pumpkin seed oil, can help to reduce inflammation, fight hair loss, boost heart health and encourage mental well being by reducing anxiety (due to the tryptophan). (21)
Precautions Regarding a Peanut Allergy
Peanuts may be present less obvious foods because they came in contact with peanuts during the manufacturing process. That’s why it’s so important to look for labels that guarantee the product was made in a peanut-free facility. People with peanut allergies need to avoid all products that contain even trace amounts of peanuts, and that may be true for some of these peanut alternatives (like almond and sunflower seed butter), so read the labels carefully.
- Approximately 1 percent to 2 percent (or more) of the U.S. population has a peanut allergy — about 3 million people — a percentage that continues to rise.
- In the past two decades, the prevalence of peanut allergies has more than quadrupled, up from 0.4 percent of the U.S. population in 1997 to 1.4 percent in 2008 to more than 2 percent in 2010.
- It’s most prevalent among children under 3 years old, and the risk of developing a peanut allergy increases to 7 percent for a sibling of a child with a peanut allergy.
- Peanuts are among the “big eight” food allergies, along with eggs, fish, milk, tree nuts, shellfish, soya and wheat.
- Peanut allergy symptoms include itchy skin, itchy throat, runny nose, nausea and anaphylaxis (in rare cases).
- Recent research published in the New England Journal of Medicine notes there is evidence that peanut allergies can be reduced by introducing infants to peanuts early on.
- Peanuts and peanut butter can be harmful if they aren’t organic.
- Foods such as almonds, almond butter, sunflower seed butter and tahini serve as good peanut and peanut butter alternatives.