Should Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women Avoid Eating Nuts?

For years doctors have debated over the peanut issue: should pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid them or not?  This July, a new study has determined  that nut consumption during pregnancy increases children’s risk of developing asthma by 50%.  (Read more about it here.)   While many doctors are saying there’s not enough evidence in favor of eliminating nuts from your diet, others are taking a more conservative approach–the British government has advised pregnant and breastfeeding women to avoid nuts since 1998.

When I was pregnant three years ago, I ate peanut butter every day.  Honestly, as a vegetarian, I am not sure I could have survived without it!  With so much fat, vitamins, and calories packed into a spoonful, there was no more efficient way to stave off the hunger pains than to treat myself to a delicious helping of peanut butter straight from the jar.  If I wasn’t eating peanut butter, I was snacking on spicy cashews or sprinkling walnuts on my salads.  At the time I thought I was doing the best for myself and my unborn child.

If your doctor is telling you to lay off the nuts, what can you eat instead?  Sunflower or sesame butter might be good alternatives, though they cost more and are harder to find than peanut butter.   Because sunflower and sesame butters come from seeds, not nuts, they can be devoured with abandon.  You could also try snacking on spreads made from beans.  Hummus with pita makes a delicious Middle Eastern snack, white bean dip with crusty bread turns into a Provencal repast, and good old black or pinto bean dip with tortilla chips fulfill your south-of-the-border cravings.

If you prefer to eat nuts by the handful, you could try substituting dried wasabi peas, baked chickpeas, soy nuts, and sunflower seeds for the can of mixed nuts.

What do you think about this issue?  Are you avoiding nuts–or surviving on a peanut butter diet, as I did?  If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have you been advised to avoid nuts?  If you have any great snack ideas for hungry pregnant or breastfeeding women, please post a comment.

Comments

  1. I have a 10 month old and was never told to avoid nuts. I didn’t devour nuts to any extreme, but I’m positive I ate them throughout the 9 months!

    There is too much information out there of what you *should* do, a lot of it contradictory. I guess on this issue it might be a good idea, if you have allergies or asthma in your family history, to just avoid it. Coming from a family with no issues of that type at all (on either side, luckily!) when/if I get pregnant again I probably wont worry about it. But maybe once more research comes out I will change my mind!

  2. It’s so frustrating when you hear something after the fact that tells you what you did to help may have harmed you or your baby. I too was a big peanut butter eater during my first pregnancy. I would snack on nuts while breastfeeding too until I thought it might not be a good idea b/c some of the peanut dust might get on my baby. This time around I didn’t eat as much peanut butter during pregnancy but have been eating more now while nursing, mostly b/c my 2yr old is having more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

    As with Allison we don’t have allergies or asthma on either side of the family so I guess I don’t worry about it as much. Maybe I’ll cut back some on the nuts now that I’ve heard it but I doubt I’ll cut them out. As for hearing anything from health care, nope, no one’s said anything about nuts. I almost think I asked with pg #1 too.

  3. Yes, it is frustrating to hear so much conflicting information! We used to worry about nuts because of allergies, but now they are linking nut consumption to asthma, too. I just looked it up, and only 3 percent of children developed asthma in 1981. In 2002, it was up to 6 percent. I am not sure it would be worth it (to me) to avoid nuts during pregnancy for what seems like a small risk. It was hard enough for me to get the calories and protein I needed duirng pregnancy and breastfeeding without eliminating one of my diet staples.

  4. With my 1st, I avoided nuts. With my 2nd, I sort of avoided them. With #3, I threw caution to the wind and didn’t really avoid them.

    My third is allergic to milk, soy and eggs. Go figure.

  5. My cousin ( who is also a doctor) ate A LOT of peanut butter during her pregnancy and it turns out that her son has every allergy under the sun, especially peanuts. The doctor told her it was because of her high consumption during pregnancy that likely caused it. He has outgrown some of his allergies now that he is 5 but he is still highly allergic to peanuts. I have just found out that my daughter is allergic to rice, which is pretty rare in this country I’ve read. I can’t help but think it’s because she ate so much of it when she first started solids. I am starting to think that too much of anything can be bad, so I’ve started rotating our foods, so we don’t run into this again (if we can help it).

  6. I tried to avoid peanuts during pregnancy because I have a friend with a son allergic to peanuts and she’d been told that was a cause. I don’t think I was perfect about it however. In fact toward the end of the pregancy I had some in order to get protein in my diet. All in all I got a lot of contradictory information about it. A dietician helping me manage gestational diabetes advised me to start the peanut butter. She looked at me like I was crazy when I told her why I wasn’t eating it. So far after a year no allergies to peanuts. How do I know that? Because I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to eat peanut butter during breastfeeding:( I hope we don’t have an issue. I will check with my sister, whose son has asthma, about her peanut butter consumption.

    One thing I’ve been meaning to look up is when its okay for toddlers (non-allergic) to start to eat peanut butter?

  7. It might not be the nuts, but how they’re prepared–I learned from the Price-Pottenger ‘native nutrition’ people that nuts and seeds have a naturally occuring tannin (toxin) that inhibits them being eaten in large amounts by foraging animals (and us)…soaking overnight in non-chlorinated water with one-eighth teaspoon sea or other whole mineral salt, then toasting them low heat til dry makes them not only not poisonous, but even more tasty! Sprouting after soaking ups the nutrition even more…..

  8. Sharon, are you saying that someone with a peanut allergy could do this and not have a reaction? Or that if we all did this, we’d benefit? At any rate, this sound very intriguing!

  9. this is such great information. thanks for the insight.

  10. rebekah says:

    I ate a lot of nuts and peanut butter when I was pregnant and even more when I started breastfeeding my kids. The doctor never told me not to eat nuts. I eat a lot of nuts, because I rarely eat meat. My oldest daughter doesn’t have any allergies or asthma. However, My 3 year old has chronic bronchitis and is highly allergic to milk and chocolate. My son who’s 10 months has asthma and is allergic to milk and may also be allergic to wheat. I can’t help but think it may be do to the fact that I eat so much nuts.

  11. Coming from a family with no issues of that type at all (on either side, luckily!) when/if I get pregnant again I probably wont worry about it.

  12. Peanuts are legumes, not nuts, the same family that includes soy.

    Tree nuts like almonds and hazel are in the same family as apples, apricots, and other such European tree fruit.

    I am highly allergic to soy; I test positive to peanut but have never had a reaction. When I was 27 I developed oral allergy syndrome in response to a fruit-nut allergy, but I can eat cashews, walnuts, and pecans with no problem.

    I have the allergy/asthma/eczema triad, and don’t want my kids to get it, but I feel like we’re never going to sort out the causes.

    All I can say is go paleo.

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