The earliest years of a child’s life aren’t just the most magical — they can also be the most crucial when it comes to their nutrition.
During what The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 calls B24 (birth through 24 months), children can gain an average of 4-6 lbs. and 2-3 inches per year.1 So it’s important that we power that growth in a nutritious way.
That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents introduce complementary foods into their baby’s diet at around 6 months old, which can be a great time to incorporate peanuts.2 In fact, peanuts provide such an affordable source of nutrient-dense nutrition that since 2005 they’ve been used as a key ingredient to treat childhood malnutrition around the world, in the form of ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs).
What Can Peanuts Offer?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 agrees on the importance of peanuts, highlighting that they and other nuts “are important sources of iron, zinc, protein, choline, and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids,”3 which can all contribute to healthy development.
And if you’re wondering if there is a way to prevent a peanut allergy for your child, they also cite that the early introduction of peanuts as a complementary food can reduce the risk of peanut allergies.
But even before birth, there are ways peanuts and peanut butter can help both mom and baby.
Pregnancy and Peanuts
During pregnancy, a mother’s nutrient needs increase. That means it’s important they get plenty of nutrient-dense foods (like peanuts) in their daily diet.
Folate, for example, is an especially important vitamin in infancy and pregnancy, as it helps to produce and maintain cells. Research has shown people who have a higher dietary intake of folate may also have an advantage in heart disease prevention. Peanuts are a healthy source of folate that can help you achieve your daily needs.
And once the child is born, the benefits keep stacking up.
Early Steps for a Healthy Life
For children, peanuts and peanut butter can offer three levels of nutritional support.
1. Promote Healthy Brain and Body Development.
Infants, toddlers and young children can all benefit from the variety of vitamins and minerals found in peanuts. But let’s break it down to see what nutrients make them so unique:
- Polyunsaturated fats (often referred to as “healthy fats”) are vital for the rapid brain development that occurs during the first 2 years of a child’s life.3
- Choline is an essential nutrient that promotes concentration and helps build neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Copper also promotes concentration, and like polyunsaturated fatty acids, helps the body to produce neurons.
- Arginine is another essential nutrient found in peanuts that encourages healthy growth. Getting arginine from food sources (rather than supplements) has been associated with higher growth velocity and linear growth4 — and peanuts have more arginine than just about any other food.
2. Promote Healthy Eating Habits.
During those crucial B24 meals, we’re setting habits that could last the rest of our children’s lives — and impact their health for the rest of their lives. Studies show that a baby’s diet, from breastfeeding to solid foods, can influence how they eat as they get older. And, as a result, affect their health.5 That’s why it’s important to introduce healthy foods to your children early, to help them get adjusted.
But if your baby’s a bit of a picky eater, don’t worry; a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetics Association found that pairing vegetables with preferred tastes like peanut butter significantly increased vegetable consumption in children.6 If your child’s too young to eat whole nuts safely (or you prefer to avoid the clean-up of peanut butter), you can pair peanut butter thinned with water and softened vegetables.
3. Protect Against Health Issues.
Unfortunately, childhood obesity has been on the rise since the 90’s, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down. Today, 1 in 3 children is either overweight or obese, and 1 in 5 is obese.7,8 Once those unhealthy eating habits are set, it can be hard to break out as an adult — leading to a higher risk for chronic conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.5,8
Eating peanuts and peanut butter regularly is associated with better weight management, heart health, and a lower risk for diabetes as an adult.9-12
Plus, thanks to the diverse range of vitamins and minerals found in peanuts, there’s a high chance they can help provide protection against other diseases as we age. In a 2019 study, for example, children as young as 6 years old who substituted peanuts for sweet snacks had a 59% lower risk of early signs of atherosclerosis than children who didn’t.13
It’s a Great Time to Improve Snack Time.
Every child is different, with unique nutritional needs, tastes and preferences, so don’t feel overwhelmed if they’re hesitant to try a new snack routine. Peanuts and peanut butter are flexible, afford-able superfoods that can work in any meal, any time, so just be patient and find ways that work for you and your child.
For more info on preventing peanut allergies and how to introduce peanut-powered foods into your infant’s diet, visit PeanutAllergyFacts.org.
And if you’re looking for recipe ideas for introducing peanuts to a baby, toddler, or the rest of your family, check out our recipe page.