Having a child with a peanut allergy can make life pretty tricky, if not downright terrifying.
While most daycares, preschools, and play spaces ban peanut butter sandwiches and snacks, parents of peanut allergy sufferers have to stay constantly vigilant to avoid serious trips to the ER. To make matters worse, more and more children are developing peanut allergies, with rates tripling between 1997 and 2008.
But a recently published study suggests that there might be hope for peanut allergy sufferers in the form of a simple diet change. Researcher Jain Tan of Monash University, Melbourne has discovered a connection between bacteria in the gut created by a high-fiber diet and resistance to the anaphylactic reactions to peanuts in lab mice.
Fiber – found in fruits, whole grains, and more – doesn’t just soften stools and aid in digestion, it also creates a special kind of gut bacteria called short-chain fatty acids that boost the immune system. Tan found that when mice bred to have a peanut allergy were fed a high-fiber diet, they were less likely to have allergic reactions to peanuts.
In an interview with New Scientist, Tan explained: “This suggests that fiber promotes peanut tolerance via the actions of its metabolites – specifically, short-chain fatty acids – on immune cells involved in food tolerance.”
That’s good news. Better news? Similar tests where short-chain fatty acid-producing bacteria was introduced to children suffering from peanut allergies showed concurrent results, with over 80% of the subjects showing resistance to the allergens.
Whether peanut allergies are actually caused by a lack of these short-chain fatty acids, attributed to a low-fiber diet, or just counteracted by them is still up for debate. What we do know is that Americans consume only 16 grams of fiber per day on average, far below the recommended 30 - 38 grams for men and 21 – 25 grams for women. We also know that communities with higher average fiber intake have lower rates of food allergies.
While there’s still plenty of research to be done on the relationship of short-chain fatty acids and peanut allergies, guaranteeing that your child eats enough fiber is a very good idea. The American Heart Association recommends children between the ages of one and eight years old get 19 – 25 grams of fiber every day. That translates to “at least two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables each day," according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
While parents of picky eaters may be wringing their hands right now, there are plenty of kid-friendly and high-fiber foods out there, like:
Beans (white, black, garbanzo, and kidney) - between 6.3 - 8.2 grams per ½ cup.
Pears - 4.4 grams per fruit
Peas - 4.4 grams per ½ cup
Raspberries - 4 grams per ½ cup
Sweet potatoes – 2.4 grams per ½ potato
Whole wheat bread - 3 grams per slice
Remember – when you add fiber to your diet, you need to drink more water as well.
Let’s all raise a glass of prune juice (2.6 grams per ½ cup) to the idea of a peanut allergy-free future.