By: Kristen Yarker, MSc, Dietitian
I love seeing Mamas’ faces when I share with them this recommendation based on the current scientific research about introducing their babies to solid foods:
“From an allergy point-of-view, starting at about 6 months old, go ahead and introduce your baby to any foods that your family eats.”
Their faces are a mix of surprise, shock, and disbelief. Then they double check about certain foods:
Q: “What about peanuts?”
A: “Yes, go ahead and introduce peanuts (as thinly spread peanut butter – whole peanuts and big globs of peanut butter can be a choking risk).
Q: “What about shrimp and other shellfish?”
A: “Yes, go ahead and introduce any type of shellfish – as long as it’s cooked. Raw fish and shellfish pose a risk of food poisoning.”
Q: “What about strawberries?”
A: “Yes, go ahead and introduce strawberries.”
If this is surprising to you too, I fully understand.
Anyone browsing the internet, reading parenting books, or listening to the advice of family and friends will be confused about what foods you should and shouldn’t introduce to your baby to minimize her/his risk of allergies. Everyone says something different!
So here’s the inside scoop on why there’s so much conflicting information. And, what the new recommendations are based on the current scientific evidence.
Reason for Mixed Information
The reason for much of the conflicting information is that most of the previous medical theories about what causes babies to have food allergies have proven not to be true.
As a result, the scientific research community has gone back to the drawing board to develop and test new theories for why babies develop food allergies. And even more importantly, they’ve gone back to the drawing board to find out how to prevent them.
There are lots of theories being tested currently. Two examples include exposure to pollution and almost the opposite theory that babies are raised in too clean and sterile an environment.
The (frustrating) fact is that we currently just don’t know what causes food allergies or how to prevent them.
So the reason that there’s so much conflicting information out there is that some of it is outdated. And, some of it is based on theories that are currently being tested (but not yet proven to be true).
On the other hand, what we do know is that the old rules about waiting until certain ages to introduce specific foods didn’t prevent allergies.
In fact, there’s some emerging evidence that delaying the introduction of some foods, such as peanuts, may actually increase the risk of allergy.
Starting at about 6 months of age, introduce almost any food that your family eats. There’s no need to wait to introduce foods such as strawberries, peanuts, shellfish, or any of the foods previously off limits.*
That being said, there are a few foods that we do recommend waiting to introduce. These recommendations are either from a nutrition point of view or a prevention of food poisoning point of view. The foods to delay introducing are:
- Honey – wait until after 12 months of age
- Cows milk until 9 – 12 months (small amounts of yogurt and cheese are OK after about 6 months).
- Raw meats, fish, raw/runny egg whites, or unpasteurized dairy foods – wait until 4 years
What about you? What foods have you heard that you should wait to introduce?
Kristen is a child feeding expert often referred to as The Dietitian who Transforms Picky Eaters into Food-Confident Kids. Although she suspects that behind her back people call her The Laughing Dietitian because she finds the humour in stressful situations. She shows families evidence-based strategies to gets kids to try new foods on their own (without negotiations, deception, or being sneaky) to start them along a path to a life-long LOVE of healthy eating.
When she’s not gardening, shopping at a farmers’ markets, cooking or entertaining she’s balancing all her food related interests by taking her surfboard down off the wall (where’s it’s been collecting dust for almost 10 years) and is getting back in the water. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.
* References: Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations for Birth to Six Months – Joint Statement of Health Canada, Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and The Breastfeeding Committee of Canada, 2012. The American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008: Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children: The Role of Maternal Dietary Restriction, Breastfeeding, Timing of Introduction of Complimentary Foods and Hydrolyzed Formulas.