Can Hypoallergenic Peanuts Live Up to the Hype?

Researchers claim they have the answer to those suffering from peanut allergies. But is a hypoallergenic peanut all it’s cracked up to be?
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Researchers claim they have a solution for those suffering from peanut allergies. But is a hypoallergenic peanut all it's cracked up to be?
About Peanut Allergies

About 0.6 percent of the US population suffers from peanut allergies. Symptoms include tingling of the mouth, swelling of the tongue and throat, difficulty breathing, vomiting, hives, cramps and loss of consciousness. Some with a peanut allergy suffer anaphylaxis, which can be potentially fatal. The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person.

Many people self-diagnose a peanut allergy without getting properly tested by a trained professional. Of those who do test positive for a peanut allergy, some will outgrow it. Studies show that about 20 percent of children outgrow their peanut allergy.

People diagnosed with a peanut allergy must avoid peanuts and products made with or processed in a plant with peanuts. But is creating this hypoallergenic peanut a good alternative for peanut allergy sufferers?
The Good

Researchers from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University developed a treatment to remove two allergens from peanuts. Roasted peanuts are soaked in an enzymatic solution typically used in food processing. No chemicals or irradiation are used and the treated peanuts can maintain a non-GMO stamp. Additionally, the peanuts still taste and smell the same as conventional peanuts and provide the same nutrition.

A Toronto-based firm called Xemerge is commercializing the new technology and planning to produce the hypoallergenic peanut for public consumption, although no timeline has been given.

The Not-So-Good

Although two key proteins that trigger allergies are eliminated in the hypoallergenic peanut, there are seven proteins in all that can cause an allergic reaction. So those who suffer from a peanut allergy could still be vulnerable. To date, there have been some clinical trials using skin-prick tests showing the treated peanut's effectiveness, but large-scale trials will be needed to ensure the product is truly safe.

In addition, because the hypoallergenic peanut looks and smells the same as a regular peanut, it could cause confusion in situations where the two are served side-by-side.

Peanut Allergy Management

If you do suffer from a peanut allergy, you probably want to wait until further testing is done on the hypoallergenic peanut. In the meantime, there are several things you can do to play it safe:

1. Get retested regularly: It is important to see a qualified health professional.

2. Avoid cross-contact: Cross-contact occurs when an allergen is transferred from a food containing an allergen to a food that does not contain the allergen. Cooking does not reduce or eliminate the chances of a person with a food allergy having a reaction to the food eaten.

3. Read food labels: Peanuts must be listed on labels of foods containing them. It is voluntary or options for food manufacturer's to list if the product was processed in a plant with peanuts. You can find unsuspecting sources of peanuts on the FARE website (Food Allergy Research & Education)  or you can visit a registered dietitian who can help you.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition and is also the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.  She is a  consultant for the National Peanut Board and other food associations.

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