A study was done in the UK where some parents were instructed to give their babies peanuts, preferably in the form of Bamba snacks, 3 times a week, while other parents were instructed to have their babies avoid peanuts.
Of the children who avoided peanut, 17% developed peanut allergy by the age of 5 years. Remarkably, only 3% of the children who were randomized to eating the peanut snack developed allergy by age 5. Therefore, in high-risk infants, sustained consumption of peanut beginning in the first 11 months of life was highly effective in preventing the development of peanut allergy.
“For decades allergists have been recommending that young infants avoid consuming allergenic foods such as peanut to prevent food allergies,” notes Professor Lack, the lead investigator for the LEAP study. “Our findings suggest that this advice was incorrect and may have contributed to the rise in the peanut and other food allergies.”
I don't think it's just the early exposure to peanuts. Many parents can tell you how their children developed allergies to foods given in infancy. I think it's specifically the ingredients of Bamba: peanuts, corn, palm oil, and salt.
As discussed below, food allergies appear more likely to develop when we do not promote optimal expression of an enzyme called RALDH2. Optimal expression of RALDH2 is key to developing oral tolerance of foods. This enzyme is activated by magnesium chloride. Bamba includes both magnesium (in peanuts and pulverized corn) and chloride (in table salt, i.e., sodium chloride). Both sodium chloride and magnesium chloride are ionic compounds that dissolve easily and dissociate in water, raising the possibility that Bamba, in the process of being digested, essentially provides dissociated magnesium chloride. Thus every time an Israeli child eats Bamba, they could be activating RALDH2 and promoting oral tolerance of peanuts. Osem, the maker of Bamba, recently promised to lower the salt content in Bamba by 15% over the next 2 years. It will be interesting to see if Israeli children start developing more peanut allergies over the next 2 years, as well.
One allergy that is common in Israeli children is sesame, which they eat in halvah (a sweet snack) and tahini (sesame paste used in hummus). Sesame contains a small amount of Vitamin E, but sesame lignans enhance Vitamin E activity. From the recipes and products I'm finding on the internet, Israeli halvah is typically just sesame seeds and sweeteners with no added salt. When tahini is used in hummus, it is combined with salt, but hummus also contains lemon juice, which if bottled likely has added lemon oil, which means it has citral, a RALDH2 inhibitor. If I were an Israeli parent trying to head off sesame allergies, I think I'd begin putting a little Dead Sea salt--it's half magnesium chloride--into my halvah and check my lemon juice to be sure I'm not putting extra lemon oil into my hummus.
So now I'll raise the question that would get me shunned in many nutritionist circles: Is it possible that the low-sodium push is partly responsible for the increase in allergies? And perhaps autoimmune diseases? Good thing I have no professional career in the field to be damaged. :)