A new study has found a strong link between eating nuts when pregnant and having asthmatic children. The study, out of Utrecht University, the Netherlands, tracked the diets of over 4000 pregnant mothers and found that those who ate nuts or nut products daily during pregnancy were 50 percent more likely than rare nut eaters to give birth to kids who developed asthma by age eight. Even after other dietary factors were controlled for, the one consistent factor among the asthmatic children appeared to be that their moms had consumed peanut butter every day during pregnancy. Interestingly, there was no correlation found between maternal nut consumption and childhood development of allergies to nuts. (There was, however, a slight correlation between maternal fruit consumption and reduced asthma symptoms.)
The researchers say that further study is needed before issuing a global nut prohibition to expectant moms, but they do suggest erring on the side of caution if you’re pregnant. “Until the verdict is in, it’s probably a good idea not to eat peanut products all the time during pregnancy, says Neil Schachter, MD, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. His colleagues emphasize that it’s absolutely fine for pregnant women to eat nuts, just not to have them daily. Still, if you’re pregnant and aware of these findings, you might find that nutty snack a bit more difficult to swallow.
And that’s too bad, because nuts have plenty of beneficial health effects. Peanuts, for instance, are a source of resveratrol, folate, coenzyme CoQ10 and other antioxidants, protein, fiber, various phytonutrients, and healthy monounsaturated fats. A 1999 study of 86,000 women discovered that those who had two peanut servings a week lowered their risk of coronary heart disease by a third, and numerous other studies have supported that finding. Other nuts (and of course, the peanut actually is a legume, not a nut) also have plenty to offer. Almonds are particularly high in vitamin E and magnesium; cashews have even more magnesium than almonds; walnuts are the only nut with high levels of alpha-linolenic acid; and an ounce of Brazil nuts can contain 10 times the RDA of cancer-fighting selenium.
It’s a shame for expectant mothers to forego those nutritional benefits, but there’s an alternative, other than strict rationing, that they can opt for — and so, perhaps, can some of the 1.5 million people in the US alone who have peanut allergies. By soaking nuts in water for about 12 hours (peanuts actually take about 36 hours), you induce them to sprout, and once sprouted, the allergens in the nuts typically get neutralized. Plus, once sprouted, their nutritional value multiplies and they taste great. Some people think they taste a lot better once sprouted. Sprouted peanuts, in fact, are especially addictive. Sprouting makes them taste very sweet.
Sprouting breaks down the enzyme inhibitors inherent in nuts. Nature has equipped nuts with these inhibitors so that they can remain dormant a long time. That’s great for the storage factor–as squirrels know, nuts in the shell can remain edible for years–but it’s tough on your intestinal tract, because those enzyme inhibitors make the nuts tough to digest. But sprouting actually breaks down the enzyme inhibitors and in fact, increases enzyme action by as much as six times. Soaking converts the proteins in nuts into amino acids, the starches into simple sugars, and the fat into fatty acids, making the nuts super easy to assimilate and digest.
And sprouting does even more than reduce allergens and increase digestibility — it also exponentially increases the available nutrients. According to an article on the Vitamin Cottage website, all grains (and nuts) increase nutrient value when sprouted. “Sprouted whole wheat was found to have 28% more thiamin (B1), 315% more riboflavin (B2), 66% more niacin (B3), 65% more pantothenic acid (B5), 111% more biotin, 278% more folic acid, and 300% more vitamin C than non-sprouted whole wheat.”
So before you deny your tot-to-be all the rich nutrients available in nuts, why not try sprouting? Just make sure you get your nuts fresh, and raw. Many nuts sold commercially have been roasted, irradiated, pasteurized, or have been sitting around too long. In fact, finding raw almonds in the US is almost impossible now thanks to new regulations that require all domestic mass marketed almonds to be sterilized/pasteurized. But assuming that you can find fresh nuts, you need no particular genius, talent, nor equipment to make sprouts. Just follow these instructions — or these instructions for peanuts. And remember — if you do have a nut allergy, proceed with caution as it’s possible that you’ll still have a reaction. It’s just a lot less likely with the nut in sprouted form.