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I Have a Peanut Allergy. Do I Need to Avoid Legumes Like Soy, Beans and Peas?

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Updated August 27, 2008

Question: I Have a Peanut Allergy. Do I Need to Avoid Legumes Like Soy, Beans and Peas?
Answer:

For the most part, no, although your allergist may advise you differently depending on your test results and family history.

Peanuts are a member of a plant family called legumes, which includes peas and beans. (Curiously, although people with peanut allergies are at greater-than-normal risk of tree nut allergy, and for this reason many people with peanut allergies are advised to avoid tree nuts as a precaution, peanuts are not closely related to true nuts botanically.)

Often, people who are allergic to one food are allergic to closely related foods due to some of the same allergenic proteins being in both foods. This phenomenon is known as cross-reactivity. One common example is that people who are allergic to shrimp are often allergic to other shellfish, like crabs and lobster.

In the case of peanuts, there does not appear to be a high level of cross-reactivity between peanuts and other legumes like beans, peas, and soybeans. (One type of legume, lupine, may pose somewhat higher risks than other legumes.)

Recent studies have shown contradictory results as to whether early introduction of soy milk or soy formula can sensitize children to peanuts and make them more likely to develop a peanut allergy. Some studies have indeed shown that infants fed soy formula are more likely to develop peanut allergies. But a June 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Allergy and Immunology suggested that the milk allergies that prompted parents to switch to soy formulas may have themselves caused the increased number of peanut allergies in soy-fed babies in previous studies. For the time being, the research question is not completely resolved, and parents should follow their pediatricians' recommendations on feeding their infants. (In general, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that hypoallergenic infant formulas, not soy formulas, be used for babies with a history of food allergies.)

Sources:

Koplin, Jennifer, et al. "Soy Consumption is Not a Risk Factor for Peanut Sensitization." Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. June 2008 121(6): 1455-59.

Sicherer, Scott H. and Hugh A. Sampson. "Peanut Allergy: Emerging Concepts and Approaches for an Apparent Epidemic." Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Sept. 2007 120(3): 491-503.

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