Peanut Allergies

Peanuts, and specifically peanut butter, are a cornerstone of every childhood diet. Unless, of course, you are one of an increasing number of people afflicted with peanut allergies, a recent trend that has one wondering: why?

A-rise-in-peanut-allergies

How are peanut allergies caused?

The rise of peanut allergies, the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment says, could be due to two factors: “a general increase in atopic diseases over the past 10 to 20 years” and “an increased consumption of peanuts by pregnant and breastfeeding mothers resulting in sensitisation at an early age”. Considering the host of products peanuts and peanut oil can be found in, it’s not surprising. According to the aforementioned Committee, these products range from the ingested (biscuits, breakfast cereals, satay sauce, etc.) to those applied topically (shampoos and creams) to animal feed, plastic, and linoleum. And with an increase in the number of products peanuts can be found in, it’s no wonder that there has been an increase in peanut allergies as well. Gestating infants are being bombarded with peanuts from every angle, and sensitisation is their only logical reaction.

Other causes could include the growing obsession with hygiene (which consequently keeps our immune systems from fighting germs and diseases and thus rendering them vulnerable), an increase in the rate of breastfeeding (“the mother has peanut protein in her system”), the method of cooking peanuts in western countries (“it is conjectured there is not enough heat to de-activate the peanut protein [in the dry-roasting method] as in the frying method”), and a late introduction of solid foods to a baby’s diet.

Peanuts and the environment

Peanuts are susceptible to a poisonous and carcinogenic growth called Aflatoxin, primarily due to their position growing in pods underground, and due to their porous shells. Said shells also allow them to absorb pesticides more easily than other shell-bearing foods, and peanuts being one of the most heavily sprayed crops doesn’t help. In fact, peanuts’ absorption of pesticides could be another reason for humanity’s predilection towards peanut allergies: so many products contain peanuts, peanuts likely soaked in chemicals, and who knows how many of those chemicals are making their way into the human body, specifically the vulnerable infant body. The heavy use of pesticides also poses a threat to wildlife. Birds can eat granular insecticides that sit on the soil’s surface “mistaking them for food or grit”, and liquid insecticides can be consumed by animals either due to the drift of aerial spray into their natural habitat or the consumption of peanut bushes by animals, such as “quail and deer [who] are attracted to peanut fields during July and August when foliar insecticides are often applied”. Depending on the toxicity, pesticides can be lethal to the animals exposed to them.

Safe Peanut and Peanut-Free Products

Organic (and consequently pesticide-free) peanut butter brands:

Whole Earth

Meridian Foods

Equal Exchange

Suma Organic

Peanut-free (and mostly organic) products:

Meridian Foods—their website has a list for consumers to locate products by dietary restrictions.

It’s Nut Free—a UK company that produces nut-free cakes, snacks, breakfast cereals, and chocolate.

The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys—makers of cakes, flapjacks, and muffins, all products save for their Eccles Cakes (“which are packed under [their] own brand externally”) are nut-free and made in a nut-free environment.

HiPP Organic—has 110 (according to their website) nut-free baby foods available, from jarred food to biscuits.

Sources:
Department of Health, Allergy free and sugar free snacks, Wildlife and Pesticides, SixWise

Photography:
Euromagic @Flickr

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