Why are there so many babies and young children with food allergies?

Globally, Australia had the highest incidence of peanut allergy in the world in 2011 but recent data shows a 16% reduction in the last decade. Although the incidence of peanut allergy has reduced from 3.1% to 2.6% of babies at 12 months of age, it is still high.

There are a few theories about why the incidence of food allergy has increased but one that has now been proven is that delaying the introduction of common allergy causing foods in babies may increase the risk of allergy development.

During the last 20 – 30 years it was common practice to delay the introduction of common allergenic foods, as it was thought that introducing them caused the allergy. In actual fact, we know now that delaying these foods led to an increased incidence in food allergy which is sometimes referred to as the “Allergy Epidemic”.

Why have the recommendations have changed?

Most people would know that it is recommended to introduce all common potential allergens in the first year of life to prevent allergy.

Research has revealed that giving babies common allergy causing foods before they are 12 months old greatly reduces the risk of allergy development and delaying introduction

We know that it’s not just introducing these foods but keeping them in the babies’ diet at least twice per week.

When and how do we introduce solids?

Introducing solids is an exciting time for all families and usually occurs around 6 months, but not before 4 months when babies are showing signs that they are developmentally ready. Signs that a baby is ready is when they:

  • have good head and next control and can sit upright when supported
  • show interest in food eg. look at or reach out for food
  • open their mouth when offered food on a spoon
  • have an increased appetite or are feeding more often.

First foods should be modified in texture from the family meal and include iron rich foods such as fortified infant cereals, meats, poultry, fish, well cooked egg and legumes. These foods should be given with a range of vegetables, fruits and grains. Once a variety of family foods are in the diet, common allergy causing foods can be introduced.

What are the common allergy causing foods?

The common allergy causing foods are cow’s milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, seafood and sesame.

How do I give peanuts, eggs and tree nuts to a baby?

It is important to puree or mash the foods as appropriate for the babies’ stage of development.

Peanut

Peanut butter (smooth) can be diluted with water, breastmilk or formula and mixed into pureed vegetables

Egg

Hardboiled egg can be mashed into pureed vegetables

Cow’s milk

Plain, full fat, unsweetened yoghurt can be added to fruits and infant cereal.

Tree nuts

Blitz tree nuts into a fine powder and dilute to a smooth puree (as above) and add to pureed fruit or vegetables or added to iron fortified infant cereals. NB. Do not use chocolate hazelnut spreads which are mainly sugar and very low in hazelnut (13%)

Wheat

Iron fortified wheat-based infant cereals

Sesame

Tahini can be added to pureed meals

Soy

Tofu can be mashed into fruit or vegetable purees

Fish

Tinned salmon or tuna can be mashed and mixed into pureed vegetables

For more information see https://preventallergies.org.au/

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