While I like to focus on the health benefits of plant-based foods, some ingredients we commonly use in my restaurant can be deadly.
Nothing terrifies me more, as a plant-based restaurateur, than the idea of a customer having an allergic reaction to peanuts. From the day Fruitive first opened its doors, our staff has been trained to react to such a situation.
Our menu also lists every ingredient that goes into our food. Despite these precautions, I worry constantly that someone might be harmed because we weren’t careful enough!
So I was especially interested in watching The Peanut Problem, Episode Two of Netflix’ Rotten docuseries. I hoped to gain some insight into the rapid rise of peanut and other food allergies.
What I learned is that there are no definitive answers to that question. The Peanut Problem, however, features several authorities explaining the latest food-allergy research.
According to the Yale School of Medicine’s Professor of Immunobiology Dr. Ruslan Medzhitov, PhD, only environmental changes can account for “… such a dramatic and quick increase” in the number of food-allergy sufferers.
The “dramatic” increase has seen the number of food-allergic kids jump 50 percent over the past 20 years. In the U.S. alone, more than 6 million children (1 in 13) are afflicted.
For Dr. Ruchi Gupta, M.D., M.P.H., of Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern University, the peanut problem is all too real. Her research indicates that over half of those with food allergies have experienced a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.
It’s a threat her own daughter faces every day. In one powerful scene, the film’s camera zooms in on the Dr. Gupta’s front door as she reflects, “Until you experience it, you don’t understand it completely.”
Ironically, she suggests that doctors may be part of the problem:
“Infants at birth or in the first year of life are getting antibiotics much more commonly. What does that do? It kind of wipes out your gut bacteria, your normal flora.”
Gut flora play an enormous role in immune system function. When there aren’t enough of them, the immune system may be “confused” about how to react to different foods.
Dr. Gupta’s explanation reminded me of a recent article by an international group of eminent nutritionists, including Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine.
After reviewing more than 100 studies on the subject, the authors of The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota concluded:
“A plant-based diet appears to be beneficial for human health by promoting the development of more diverse and stable microbial systems.”
While I don’t pretend to understand the extensive research being done in this field, their conclusion doesn’t surprise me.
Many doctors I’ve written about in this blog recommend introducing young children to a well-rounded diet of plant-based foods, including legumes. And that would mean peanuts!
By introducing infants to peanuts when they’re between four and 11 months old, Dr Gupta hopes to reduce their chances of becoming allergic. Her early results, she says, have been very promising:
“…They may actually significantly decrease their chances of developing it by almost 80 percent in those high-risk kids.”
Some of Fruitive’s top-selling items do contain peanuts, because many of our customers love them. That said, we’ll also do whatever it takes to protect the health of the ones who have “the peanut problem!”