Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Great Peanut Allergy Debate

A recent news story has been getting some attention here in Saskatchewan about a little girl who was attending grade one in a Florida school with a life threatening allergy to peanuts. The other parents at the school protested outside and demanded her removal from the classroom. The girl's parents, as I understand it, have now opted to home school her (1).

This is a tough debate all around. On one hand, yes, it requires extreme diligence on the part of the teachers, for they are ultimately the ones who have to shoulder the burden of making sure the students do not come into the school with any prohibited food items. I can only imagine the stress they must be under, worrying about whether or not this little girl will come into contact with a peanut under their watch. The additional time teachers have to spend checking for peanuts is time taken away from education. It's another level of complication in an increasingly complicated world.

On the other hand, it must be even more terrifying for the parents of children with allergies, to have to send their little ones off to school knowing that they could die if the school's peanut-ban is not respected. Segregation is not the answer. It does not teach tolerance or compassion for others less fortunate. What message are parents sending their children when they boycott a little girl who was unlucky enough to have developed a peanut allergy? Food sensitivities and allergies are on the rise - maybe we all need to start adjusting to this new reality.

However, rather than focus the issue on the unfortunate children who have to spend their lives with EpiPens in their pockets, I would like to see more focus on the culprit: in this case, the peanut. Peanuts are not food we should be encouraging any child to eat. They are prone to contamination with a toxic fungi called aflatoxin (AF), which has been shown to cause liver cancer (2). Peanut butter often contains much higher levels of AF than whole peanuts, and as much as 300% more than the levels considered safe. Why? The best peanuts are hand picked for cocktail jars, while the less desirable, moldy peanuts get processed into the peanut butter we feed our children (3).

Contrary to what you might believe, peanuts are not nuts, but legumes, and as such, they are full anti-nutrients, just like other beans. They are difficult for our bodies to digest and contribute to damaging our digestive tract.

Also, early soy consumption has been shown to trigger peanut allergies in children (4). The majority of soy is now genetically modified and a bi-product of that tinkering has caused the proteins in soy to change and become more like its relative, the peanut. Soy is found in a lot of foods, and is particularly common in - surprise - infant formula! Giving a newborn or infant soy before intestinal closure has been shown to predispose children to soy allergies - and as a consequence, peanut allergies - later on in life (5).

Avoiding early exposure to both peanuts and soy are the best approach in preventing allergies. Better education on the hidden dangers of peanut consumption would hopefully cause more parents to reconsider whether that peanut butter sandwich is worth the risk to their own children, and the little girl with the life threatening allergy.

(2) The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II, pg34-35
(3) The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II, pg34-35


Susan Weissman said...

I like the points you make here about the quality of the foods that non-allergic children are given to eat. It would be nice if more people were thougthtful about what we are (within reason) asking parents to give up if our child has a life threatening allergy.

Shanon Hilton said...

I'd like to think that if more parents understood how harmful peanut butter is, it wouldn't be such an issue for them to remove peanut butter from their homes in order to make it safer for those with allergies at school.