Three Healthy Reasons to Include Peanuts in Your Baby’s Diet

Samara Sterling, PhD | 03.09.2021

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents introduce complementary foods in their baby’s diet at around 6 months old, which is a great time to incorporate peanuts [1]. According to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, early introduction of peanuts as a complementary food can reduce the risk of peanut allergies [2]. In addition, including peanut foods in your child’s diet can promote good nutrition and better health as they continue to grow into adulthood.

1. Promoting proper development of brain and body

Proper nutrition during the first 2 years of life is essential for healthy growth and development. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 refers to this time period as “B24” and highlights that nuts/peanuts “are important sources of iron, zinc, protein, choline, and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids [2].” These unsaturated fatty acids are vital for the rapid brain development that happens through the child’s first 2 years of life [2]. Peanuts also contain essential nutrients like arginine, which encourages healthy growth. Arginine intake from foods is associated with higher growth velocity and linear growth in children [3].

2. Promoting healthy dietary habits

Cultivating good nutrition habits in children starts with their earliest introduction to foods that encourage healthy dietary patterns. In fact, studies show that a baby’s diet—from breastfeeding to solid foods—can impact how they eat as they grow and, can consequently, affect their health as they age [4].

As parents include complementary foods in their baby’s diets, they should [5-7]:

  • limit their baby’s intake of sugar-sweetened drinks and snacks
  • limit foods that are high in salt, such as processed meats and some canned foods
  • emphasize nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables
  • include nutrient-dense snacks

A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetics Association found that pairing vegetables with a preferred taste like peanut butter significantly increased vegetable consumption in children [8]. Feeding whole nuts or sticky foods like peanut butter to infants and toddlers may not be appropriate due to choking risk. However, parents can pair thinned peanut butter with softened vegetables to help build healthy habits that may be carried throughout childhood and adulthood.

3. Protection against obesity and chronic diseases

The prevalence of obesity in children has been increasing since the 1990s. Today, 1 in 3 children is either overweight or obese, and 1 in 5 is obese [9, 10]. Children who are overweight or obese are likely to be overweight or obese as adults. They are also more likely to have asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease [4, 10]. Rapid infant weight gain is a strong predictor of childhood overweight and obesity [11].

Healthy diets in infancy and childhood can protect against obesity and its related chronic diseases in adulthood. Regular consumption of peanuts and peanut butter is associated with better weight management, heart health, and protection from diabetes in adults [12-15], and early introduction of peanuts could reduce risk of some of these chronic diseases as infants and toddlers grow older. For example, a 2019 study showed that children as young as 6 who ate nuts/peanuts instead of sweet snacks had a 59% lower risk of early signs of atherosclerosis than children who didn’t [16]. Encouraging healthy diets that include peanuts early on can promote healthy hearts and bodies throughout the lifespan.

For tips about preventing peanut allergies and how to introduce peanut foods in your infant’s diet, visit www.peanutallergies.org.

References

  1. Pediatrics, A.A.o. Infant Food and Feeding. 2021; Available from: https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-Specific-Content/Pages/Infant-Food-and-Feeding.aspx.
  2. USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2020; Available from: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf.
  3. van Vught, A.J., et al., Dietary arginine and linear growth: the Copenhagen School Child Intervention Study. Br J Nutr, 2013. 109(6): p. 1031-9.
  4. Alvarez-Pitti, J., A. de Blas, and E. Lurbe, Innovations in Infant Feeding: Future Challenges and Opportunities in Obesity and Cardiometabolic Disease. Nutrients, 2020. 12(11).
  5. Ziesmann, A., et al., The Association between Early Childhood and Later Childhood Sugar-Containing Beverage Intake: A Prospective Cohort Study. Nutrients, 2019. 11(10).
  6. Røed, M., et al., Associations between parental food choice motives, health-promoting feeding practices, and infants’ fruit and vegetable intakes: the Food4toddlers study. Food Nutr Res, 2020. 64.
  7. Hesketh, K.D., et al., Long-term outcomes (2 and 3.5 years post-intervention) of the INFANT early childhood intervention to improve health behaviors and reduce obesity: cluster randomised controlled trial follow-up. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 2020. 17(1): p. 95-95.
  8. Johnston, C.A., et al., Increasing vegetable intake in Mexican-American youth: a randomized controlled trial. J Am Diet Assoc, 2011. 111(5): p. 716-20.
  9. Kumar, S. and A.S. Kelly, Review of Childhood Obesity: From Epidemiology, Etiology, and Comorbidities to Clinical Assessment and Treatment. Mayo Clin Proc, 2017. 92(2): p. 251-265.
  10. Prevention, C.f.D.C.a. Childhood Obesity Facts. 2021; Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html#Prevalence.
  11. Wang, G., et al., Weight Gain in Infancy and Overweight or Obesity in Childhood across the Gestational Spectrum: a Prospective Birth Cohort Study. Sci Rep, 2016. 6: p. 29867.
  12. Johnston, C.A., et al., Weight loss in overweight Mexican American children: a randomized, controlled trial. Pediatrics, 2007. 120(6): p. e1450-7.
  13. Lilly, L.N., et al., The Effect of Added Peanut Butter on the Glycemic Response to a High-Glycemic Index Meal: A Pilot Study. J Am Coll Nutr, 2018: p. 1-7.
  14. Luu, H.N., et al., Prospective evaluation of the association of nut/peanut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. JAMA Intern Med, 2015. 175(5): p. 755-66.
  15. Liu, X., et al., Changes in nut consumption influence long-term weight change in US men and women. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 2019: p. bmjnph-2019-000034.
  16. Aghayan, M., et al., Association of nuts and unhealthy snacks with subclinical atherosclerosis among children and adolescents with overweight and obesity. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2019. 16(1): p. 23.