If you need us, we’ll be here… sitting on the kitchen floor, spoons in hand, eating nut butter straight from the jar. It’s the little moments like this that I treasure, when – for just a brief second – my bag-of-beans “Mr Busy” little boy is snuggled still in my lap, exchanging knowing looks of delicious satisfaction. If you’re holding off introducing nuts to your baby in the hope it will prevent a nut allergy, you may not need to. According to a recent recommendation from Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), highly allergenic foods like nuts can be introduced into babies diets as early as 6-months and delaying their introduction does not help to prevent food allergy in the future.
My step daughter was diagnosed with a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to cashews and hazelnuts at age 5, so naturally I went fourth with some trepidation introducing nuts to Otis for the first time when he was around 7-months old. Otis was mid-way through a blueberry buckwheat pancake smeared with a little almond and macadamia butter when I thought perhaps it would have been wise to have done this when my husband was home… but it was too late, he was shoveling them in his mouth by his fist full. We’re seeing greater tolerance in my step daughters yearly skin prick tests, so we’re hopeful this will continue to improve with age – until then, the best skill I can equip her with to cope with this allergy, is teaching her how to cook.
It’s generally considered safe for women with no history of food allergies to eat common allergens such as nuts while they’re breastfeeding, and so far there is insufficient evidence that a breastfeeding mother’s diet will have any effect on whether her baby develops allergies. In fact, these days a lot of allergists are worried that by eliminating allergens from children’s environment, we’re actually increasing their risk of developing allergies. The ASCIA recommends introducing nuts and other allergens when solid food is introduced, provided there is no family history of nut allergies. Delaying the introduction nuts and other highly allergenic foods like soy, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, and wheat does not help to prevent food allergy in the future. In fact, some research shows that introducing them early may reduce the risk of children becoming allergic to these foods later in life.
Nuts are natural power-packs of nutrients, antioxidants, protein, fibre and healthy fats – everything little growing bodies need. Whole nuts should not be given to children until after 5-years of age due to the risk of choking, so nut butter is a great way to introduce nuts to your baby’s diet and can easily be teamed with fruits or vegetables, or mixed into a bowl with your baby’s cereal or yogurt (just make sure the mixture isn’t too thick, and stir it well before giving it to your baby) for a delicious nutritious snack. Avoid giving nut butter to your baby with a spoon, as it can pose as a choking hazard. You can also use ground almonds or hazelnuts in place of flour to make healthy muffins or pancakes – the result will be denser in texture, but far more nutritious.
HOMEMADE NUT BUTTER
Store-bought nut butters can be expensive and often contain sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils and preservatives. Making your own is easy and requires very few ingredients. I use whatever nuts are floating around in the freezer (store your nuts in the freezer to stop them going mouldy) but it’s mostly almonds, sometimes cashews and just a couple of Brazil’s for a dose of selenium. There’s always a jar of nut butter in the fridge – although it never lasts very long – we have it smeared on buckwheat crispbreads, sliced apple or banana as a snack, dolloped in smoothies, stirred through porridge or just straight out the jar. Nut butter adds all-important protein and healthy fats that a lot of kids snacks are missing and it’s these macronutrients that are going to keep them feeling fuller for longer and prevent spikes in their blood sugar.
As well as all the wonderful health benefits that come with nuts, they also contain phytic acid (phytates). Phytates are essentially anti-nutrients that bind to essential minerals preventing their absorption in our gut and inhibiting digestive enzymes that break down our food into nutrients so they can be absorbed. When we’re talking about little people, this is something to be wary of because too many bound minerals can lead to deficiency.
Roasting nuts can reduce their phytate content and may improve digestability. Roasting at a low temperature, below 130’C, will also preserve some of their B vitamins (that aren’t heat stable) and reduce the amount of acrylamide – a chemical compound, possible neurotoxin and carcinogen – that roasting at high temperatures can produce.
Soaking or “activating” nuts can also reduce their phytate content and preserve many of their nutrients. To be honest, activating nuts can be a rather laborious… but like most things, the more you do it the easier it becomes. If you don’t activate your nuts, don’t panic, we humans can tolerate a small to moderate amount of phytic acid (around 100-400mg per day), so just consume nuts in a small amount.
Activate your nuts by soaking them overnight (12-hours) in filtered water with 1 teaspoon sea salt and a splash of organic apple cider vinegar, per 1 cup of nuts. Strain and rinse, then spread onto a dehydrator or baking tray and set the oven to the lowest possible temperate (no more than 65’C) for 12-24 hours. You’ll have to try them to know when they’re ready – if they’re dry, delicious and crunchy, they’re done.
Because of their high fat content, nuts easily absorb pesticides, so purchase organic or pesticide-free.
SUNNY ALMOND BUTTER
MAKES: 1 CUP – PREP TIME: 40 MINS
- 1 cup organic almonds and 1 cup organic sunflower seeds (activated)
- 2 organic Brazil nuts (activated)
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- Pinch of sea salt *optional
- Spread almonds, sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts on a baking tray and roast at 130’C for 30 minutes
- Place nuts in a high-speed blender and process until the nuts release their oils and the mixture turns to butter (3-4 mins). You’ll get almond meal at first, but keep going and use the mixing attachment to stir as you blend. Depending on the speed of your food processor, it can take up to 30 minutes for the nuts to release their oils
- Add coconut oil and salt and blend to combine
- Store nut butter in an airtight glass container or and old jar in the fridge for up to 2-weeks (if it lasts that long)
*** Pimp your nut butter by adding some carob powder, raw cacao powder, cinnamon or turmeric