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Peanuts, Allergy, Pregnancy and Folate

February 2, 2013

PeanutsAbout 1 percent of children and adults in the United States are allergic to peanuts and peanut products, including peanut butter and any food containing peanuts. [P]eanut allergy has doubled in the past decade.

Someone who is allergic to peanuts usually develops symptoms within seconds to 2 hours after eating a food that contains peanuts. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can include:

  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Hives (itchy bumps on the skin)
  • Swelling of the tongue and throat
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea

The most serious reaction is called anaphylaxis. In such cases, blood pressure drops suddenly and the individual loses consciousness. This condition requires emergency medical treatment.

Individuals with a peanut allergy can have a serious or even fatal reaction if they eat peanuts. This reaction occurs because the immune system of an affected individual reacts abnormally to usually harmless proteins in peanuts. Children and adults who are allergic to peanuts should not eat them at any time. Unfortunately, there is no proven way to prevent peanut allergy. Children and adults (including pregnant women) with a peanut allergy should carry with them a shot of epinephrine (a medicine that helps control serious reactions).

Besides peanut butter and peanut oil, some foods that may contain peanuts include:

  • Arachis [arachide] oil (another name for peanut oil)
  • [Some] ethnic foods, including Chinese, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese
  • Many candies, especially chocolate (which often is made on machinery that also processes candies made with nuts)
  • Some cereals, including granola
  • Marzipan
  • [Sauces, including] Pesto sauce
  • Some veggie burgers
  • Some health food bars

Women who are allergic to peanuts should not eat peanuts or peanut products during pregnancy or at any other time. Until recently, experts recommended that women who aren’t allergic to peanuts but who have a family history of peanut allergy avoid peanuts during pregnancy. However, recent studies have found no evidence that avoiding peanuts in pregnancy helps prevent peanut allergies in the child.

Peanuts are a good source of protein and folate. Folate is [vitamin B9] that is found naturally in foods. Taking [natural folate or synthetic] folic acid before and during early pregnancy helps prevent certain serious birth defects of the brain and spine. [A]ll women who could become pregnant [should] take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of [natural folate or synthetic folacin or] folic acid daily, and make healthy food choices that include foods rich in [folate].


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