New mom alert: What you need to know about food allergies

Parents are more concerned than ever about food allergies – and rightly so. Between 1997 and 2007, food allergy diagnoses were up 18 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And it’s no surprise that some pregnant or breastfeeding moms are concerned that what they’re eating could increase their child’s risk of developing an allergy.

It’s been a controversial topic, with some studies suggesting that eating certain foods during pregnancy or while breastfeeding could increase your baby’s risk of developing an allergy, while others find quite the opposite.

In fact, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, babies whose mothers ate peanuts and tree nuts one or more times a week while pregnant were less likely to develop asthma or an allergic disease than those babies whose mothers never ate nuts.

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics reversed its policy on the topic by stating that there is no evidence to prove that eliminating certain foods from your diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding will prevent a food allergy.

“The truth is that we don’t know exactly how or why food allergies develop in some children and not in others,” said Dr. JJ Levenstein, a board certified pediatrician and a member of the Scientific Advisory Council of the National Peanut Board. “We do know that children can become sensitized to certain foods based on mom’s diet, but that doesn’t equate to a clinical food allergy.”

In addition, results are often determined by the study’s design, variations in the populations, the amount of people participating, and how the term “food allergy” is defined and diagnosed.

“The term allergy is used very loosely,” Levenstein said. For example, a provider might order what is known as an IgG test, which would only show exposure to foods, (but) not if there is a true allergic reaction. An IgE test, on the other hand, can show a true allergic reaction.”

Levenstein noted researchers are now taking a more critical approach to studies and looking at when babies develop immunity to high risk foods.

What you should know

“Eating all foods is best,” said Laura Cipullo, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator. Eating a diet that consists of a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, monounsaturated fats like those found in nuts, without going overboard on any one food is the way to go.

If you still have concerns about a certain food, Cipullo recommended eating the risky food every four or five days, so that the antigen will not be present in your body the next time you eat the food. This method has been shown to help people with food intolerances, not allergies, but it can give you peace of mind.

If you have a food allergy, continue to eliminate the trigger foods from your diet. If your partner has an allergy, eliminate the food from your diet and seek the advice of your baby’s pediatrician.