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Exclusive Interview: National Peanut Board Dietitian Sherry Coleman Collins Talks Babies & Food Allergies

BabyGaga recently had the honor of having Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD, prominent dietitian nutritionist, and sought-after food allergy expert offer her insight regarding the AAP’s significant repeal - putting allergenic foods like peanuts back on the menu. She is also a part of the team at National Peanut Board - Sherry's start cultivated from an interest in how nutrition could help prevent disease.

The Southern Fried Nutritionist reveals that being an RDN provides endless opportunities to express her creativity in the kitchen, stretch her nutrition science muscles, and positively impact the health of friends, family, and a wider audience of consumers.

Also a busy mom of an active three-year-old, Sherry is labeled the ‘brains and personality’ behind the Twitter handle @PeanutRD since 2012, boasting the reasons to enjoy peanuts and peanut butter. She describes every day is different, challenging, fun, and fulfilling - a healthy outlook we could all benefit from!

BabyGaga (BG): Hello Sherry! I am delighted that you could assist our readers with your trusted philosophies today. A seismic deviation from nearly two decades of guidelines has created mixed feelings about the new science - your advice is highly regarded. What do you feel is empowering about the progress in peanut allergy immunotherapy? What will it mean for parents and the future of allergy treatments?

Sherry Coleman Collins (SCC): At the moment, the only approach parents have for a child with a peanut allergy is to practice avoidance and treat reactions with emergency medications. Completly avoiding eating an allergen is the only way to prevent a severe or life-threatening reaction from happening, but it can be challenging. Research shows that even among families who are rigorous about preventing exposure, children still have accidental ingestion and reactions - sometimes those are very serious reactions. Immunotherapy for peanut allergy has the potential to give parents a proactive way to reduce the risk of anaphylaxis in their peanut allergic children for the first time. In some cases, immunotherapy may induce tolerance (giving a child the ability to eat peanut foods as they wish), but for most children, it appears to reduce the risk for those most serious kinds of reactions. Currently, researchers say graduates of immunotherapy programs will still need to avoid consumption (beyond their prescribed “dose” in the case of oral immunotherapy) and carry their epinephrine autoinjectors, but the net outcome should be fewer reactions and lower levels of anxiety with more freedom to enjoy normal activities without as much fear.

BG: Peanut allergy affects about 2% of the children in the United States, and those numbers appear to be growing, so it’s palpable that this metamorphosis was fundamental. How long do you believe it will take for parents to defend the ‘new rules’ and feel secure?

SCC: I believe this is a public health issue and it will take a shift in many areas to help parents fully comply with the latest effort to encourage peanut foods to be fed to babies in infancy. That said, I do think that many parents are already embracing the recommendations to begin to feed children peanut foods as early as 4-6 months. In particular, I’ve seen a great deal of enthusiasm in the food allergy community among parents who wish they’d had any chance at reducing the risk that their own child would have a peanut allergy. In particular, many parents I have met who have an older allergic child and new babies are excited about being able to do something for their second child. The new recommendations may not eliminate peanut allergies, but it’s thrilling to be able to do something simple to help prevent food allergies. The risk is small, but the potential benefit can be huge. I can’t say how long it will be before all new parents feel secure with the early introduction of potentially allergenic foods in infancy. But I would tell hesitant parents that the evidence is overwhelming that early introduction reduces risk and has the potential to prevent peanut allergy now and in future generations.

BG: Thank you so much for chatting with us! Please see our interview with blogger at "Momma's Gone City", Jessica Shyba, for more information!

NEXT: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW - JESSICA SHYBA OF 'MOMMA'S GONE CITY' TALKS INTRODUCING BABIES TO PEANUTS

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