I often talk about the challenges we face as moms in our pursuit of the truth.  What is REALLY healthy for our kids and what is a big lie created by corporate marketing?  It seems for every single warning, there are 10 warnings, warning us that there is really nothing wrong with whatever that thing is.  It confuses moms, segregates moms, demonizes moms who just want what’s best and damages our relationships with one another.

Don’t think so?

Okay here are a few examples;

Breastfeeding vs. Formula.  Formula vs. Cereal.  Formula vs. Donor Milk.  Vaccines vs. Anti-Vax.  Orajel vs. Hylands Tablets.  Sunscreen vs. Zink Oxide Sunblock.  Vegan vs. Vegetarian vs. Gluten Free vs. Animal Protein Diet.  Organic/Non-GMO vs. Regular.  Soda vs. Natural Juice.  Natural colors vs. Red 40/Yellow #4, #5.

… and these are JUST the ones I could think of off the top of my head.  My point is, these are hard choices with several factors including cost, research, time and energy, convenience, trust in science, (or lack-thereof), education, awareness and a willingness to get to the bottom of it or not settling for what’s right in front of you, giving into peer pressure at parties when someone rolls their eyes when you tell your child they can’t have what they want off the treat table, and so many more.

As The Cautious Mom, my job is to bring awareness and to help inspire conversation, as well as internal examination.  We don’t judge here, we just want to provide you the tools to make your own choices with the RIGHT information, not just what the media/doctors/parenting magazines want you to think.  We want to encourage you to WANT to research, to WANT to not settle and to know, 100%, that your choices are being made because they are the RIGHT choices, not the choice that someone else made, so you’re just going along with it.  That’s why our tagline is “For Moms Who Refuse To Jump Off The Ledge”.  We don’t want anyone to jump off the cliff just because some other mom did- even if it’s your mother or some other trusted adviser!  We want you to think for yourself, make great choices for your family and then, if you choose to jump- you know you did it because it was the right thing to do for your family and you didn’t jump blindly into a fog because you allowed someone else to make the choice for you.

One of these topics is a pretty simple one, (or so I thought when I first started really looking into it) – When to allow a child to eat peanut butter.    There are some confusing and inconsistent statements in various professional communities and that usually cause moms to simply do whatever they personally feel like, abandoning the warnings as “hype”, simply because no one wants to give anyone a straight, solid or consistent answer.

This to me, is horrible.  I cringe anytime I hear a mom say, “well, there’s enough research for and against it, that I guess it really doesn’t matter either way”.  No… it does matter and that logic doesn’t really make sense.  It reminds me of the scene in The Princess Bride;

It always feels like the Man in Black is standing there with a cup of iocane powder laced wine in each hand telling me… “don’t worry, just pick one… you’ll be fine, really- it’s not that big of a deal.”

Why would any sane person take the risk one way or the other unless you were certain it was the right thing?  Well, that’s what moms have to do now in so many areas of their child’s lives and after a while it gets frustrating, tiring and down right infuriating.

So.  About peanut butter.  See, my youngest is almost two and her eating habits are changing.  She is getting a little more decisive and particular and has begun to reject protein-rich foods, so I’m looking for new options.  I went to the computer and wanted to refresh my memory on the whole nut butter issue to find out when is the best time to introduce it into a child’s diet.  What I found after about an hour of searching the internet, was a whole lot of different answers from different, “respected” sources.

Some say early- like 4-6 months.  Some say late- like 4-5 years.  So, where’s the middle ground?  Where’s the truth?  Honestly moms, I don’t know if there is a real truth, but here’s some information I found (and some I already had) in case you are wondering about this, too.  It’s not an answer, but it’s at least some knowledge to help you make the choice that makes sense for your family.

When I looked it up last week, the FIRST thing that came up was the following information:

An article in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal highlights a new approach to combating food allergies: Introducing allergenic foods like peanut butter and eggs to babies as young as 4to 6 months old, according to a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice

WHHAAAT?!?!?  Okay, now I KNOW that can’t be right.  4-6 months??  I exclusively breastfed both my babies until they were a year old!  They never had any food of any kind until a week before their birthdays.

When my son turned 2 and everyone was pressuring me about why I wasn’t allowing him to eat peanut butter, I researched it then and discovered the average recommendation was 2-3 years.  We tested a little to make sure he didn’t have an allergy and then once that was ruled out, I heard the only other issue was related to a gut problem similar to candida and we hadn’t had any issues with that, so, I gave in and allowed him to have it about mid-way through his second year.  He did fine, no allergies, no tummy issues, just an awesome new addition to my arsenal of options for mealtime… but not at 4-6 months.  That seems to go against everything I’ve read and understood about breastfeeding and the vital importance of keeping the gut clean and clear with ONLY breast milk until it has fully developed.

So why so young now?  Well, apparently the issue is a new study they’ve conducted on food allergies.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

There have always been several schools of thought when it comes to the causes of food allergies; one of the most common being the “hygiene hypothesis.” This theory states that babies environments are over-sterilized, thus causing an underdevelopment of the immune system.

According to the theory, children in underdeveloped societies are exposed to more germs, but are thought to have healthier immune systems and less allergies.

In Israel, where peanut allergy incidence is low, it is common practice to give babies foods that contain peanuts before they are 6 months old.

A 2008 study showed children in the U.K. were 10 times more likely to have peanut allergies than children in Israel.

So now, allergists and researchers are taking a closer look at this finding and the idea of early introduction of highly allergenic-type foods.”  

So we are primarily talking about allergies and how early introduction of those foods can teach the body to accept them in order to prevent the food from being seen as a foreign and dangerous thing in a baby’s system.  I’m not a scientist here, but honestly… this seems like a whole bunch of crazy talk.

If every food item we didn’t get introduced to until later in life caused an allergy, no one could ever try any new foods and would only be eating exactly what their mothers made for them in the first 3 years of life.  So, it is a stretch at BEST, in my opinion.

Okay, so moving on.  From the majority of research I’ve done on this subject so far, 90% of it is all about allergies.  The delay is due to a fear of an allergic reaction and how a severe reaction to peanuts in a very small child could turn deadly VERY quickly.  The resulting recommendation, was to wait until the body was stronger, in case a reaction took place.

This is not the WHOLE picture, however.

There is another component of nut butters, primarily peanut butter, that may have a much better and more logical reason to wait.  It’s called aflatoxin, which is a carcinogen.  It’s a natural toxin produced by certain strains of the mold Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus.  This mold grows inside peanuts.  It’s inside every peanut.  Always.  NO matter what.  Literally, no matter what.  This toxin, can impair and inflame the liver, and according to the Doctor Andrew Weil, this “potent carcinogen” may contribute to liver cancer.

Does that mean every mother in the US should throw away all their jars of peanut buttery goodness and run out to buy almond butter instead?  Well, no… because this toxin can (not does) live on any nut.  The danger is a consistent concern no matter what type of “butter” you are buying, so you really just need to make the choice for yourself.  Is it bad enough to stop using it, or never even give it to the children in the first place?  Many doctors say no, it’s not that bad and don’t worry so much.

Doctor Sears, a well known, trusted pediatrician known for his alternative methods of treatment and lifestyle stated the following:

  • Be careful of a toxic mold called “aflatoxin” that can grow on rancid peanut butter or spoiled peanuts. Peanut butter manufacturers are highly aware of this potentially toxic mold and take strict manufacturing precautions to eliminate it. Commercially-available peanut butters are safe. If you grind your own nuts into peanut butter, take care to use roasted nuts that are fresh.

Doctor Andrew Weil, another well known doctor famous for his alternative healing methods and focus on body/mind wellness stated this:

  • The U.S. government tests crops for aflatoxin and doesn’t permit them to be used for human or animal food if they contain levels over 20 parts per billion. While we don’t know much about the dangers of long-term exposure to low levels of aflatoxin, my colleague Kathleen Johnson, a dietician here at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, points out that there hasn’t been an outbreak of liver cancer among U.S. kids, who as you know, consume enormous amounts of peanut butter.

Vani Hari, AKA “The Food Babe”, is one of my favorite people on the Internet.  She champions for the truth, for families and her own children to find the answers to all our food questions and I typically look to her first for information.  Here’s what she said about aflotoxin and peanut butter:

  • This chemical has been shown to cause liver cancer in developing countries where there is a large consumption of corn, peanuts and grains grown without strict regulation of the quality of soil. Here in the United States, the FDA allows aflatoxin into our food system at varying levels. This is just not something I want to consume on a regular basis, even in small “approved” doses. For people who have had cancer or already have compromised liver function, you should really consider this information.

Michelle of “Open Eye Health” is a great resource of information and a lot like me.  She’s a passionate “regular girl” who wants to find the truth and get to the bottom of food issues and health crazes and began her page to help others and share her experiences.  She wrote the following:

  • Workers around peanuts are actually said to wear protection (like facial masks for breathing) from the mold and danger it creates.
  • In most cases, the mold cannot be seen in peanut butter and unfortunately there’s been no way determined to completely eliminate it from peanuts and peanut butter. This mold is something to be aware of, especially if you may be suffering from candida. Also, even if the Aspergillus fungus is killed through heating, the dangerous aflatoxins will remain.

After all this, what is the final verdict?  Well, it seems if we want to be extra cautious and alleviate the concern completely, the ONLY option is to eliminate peanut butter from our list of viable food options.   If we don’t want to be quite that cautious, now that we understand it’s an issue of either allergic reaction or a toxic carcinogen, age isn’t the issue but frequency might be a factor.  We can limit our use of peanut butter to say, once per week?  That’s acceptable, right?  I mean, once we rule out allergy we really only need to worry about the carcinogen and that seems to be a debatable concern depending on who you talk to.

But what about the fungus living in our peanut butter?  How do we know what we have is safe?  Well, here’s the bottom line; we don’t.  Period.  The FDA and USDA, as we read above, do have strict regulations on aflatoxin levels and those regulations typically put everyone’s (including most doctors) minds at ease.

But here’s one thing to consider; Once the peanut butter clears inspection and the jars head off to the store, that fungus can continue to grow.  The length of time that butter waits on a shelf before it’s eaten can increase the levels of the aflatoxin considerably.  We also have to keep in mind how far away the peanut butter plant is from where our store is (transport time) and THEN, how long it might sit on our own shelves before it’s eaten.

All of these considerations need to be evaluated.

This is really about comfort level. For me, I believe the best course of action is to use fresh peanuts, always roasted, organic (so they’re not bathed in pesticides) and either grind them into butter myself, or buy the butter at the store if the company is fairly local.  Once it’s opened, always keep it in the fridge and eat it fairly quickly- never allow it to get stale and ALWAYS throw it away if it tastes a little old.

I hope this helps to, at the very least, put all the details in ONE spot for you to weigh the odds and decide what’s best for you and your family.

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