Women going through infertility treatment often ask what is safe to eat while attempting pregnancy in the hope that their child will have the best chance at being healthy. Eating foods high in folic acid such as green leafy vegetables and most importantly folate supplements are well known to be important in preventing neural tube defects. Avoiding unpasteurized milk and cheese is also important to prevent Listeria infections resulting in fetal death and neonatal complications.
Childhood food allergy is on the rise affecting one in 13 children in the United States. The presence of peanut and other tree nut allergies has tripled since 1997. The cause of this phenomena is largely unknown. In the past some advocated that pregnant women should avoid consuming peanuts and tree nuts while pregnant out of fear that it may lead to nut allergies in their babies.
These fears are unfounded. A recent study published online in JAMA Pediatrics, December 23, 2013 and promulgated by Reuters, found in a national study of female nurses between the ages of 24 and 44 years old who were asked whether they consumed nuts while pregnant that of the 8,205 children in the study, 308 had food allergies, including 140 who were allergic to peanuts or tree nuts. Tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamias, and Brazil nuts. Overall they concluded that babies born to mothers who ate nuts during pregnancy had fewer nut allergies. About 1.5% of children of women who ate less than one serving of nuts per month during pregnancy developed nut allergies compared to 0.5% of children of women who ate five or more servings per week. The exception was children of women who themselves had a history of nut allergies. In those cases, when women ate nuts five or more times a week during pregnancy, their children had 2 ½ times the risk of nut allergies compared to children of mothers with nut allergies who did not eat nuts during pregnancy. Therefore a dollop of peanut butter during pregnancy is not only safe for mothers who do not have a peanut allergy themselves, but may help reduce the risk of peanut allergies and tree nut allergies in their children.