Although experts now recommend that infants be exposed to allergens early in life, it's hard to sprinkle peanut dust into rice cereal every day. Here's one solution.
Infant protein supplements might sound like they’re meant to address our national shortage of buff babies. But SpoonfulOne, a new infant protein supplement, has nothing to do with juicing up your newborn. Instead, the product contains proteins that some studies suggest can help prevent dangerous food allergies. “There’s not a lot of bulk—I’m not saying beef up your baby,” Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician and the company’s Chief Medical Officer, told Fatherly.
“No one has asked me that, but I love that you’re thinking of Muscle Milk.”
Swanson, a mother of two who has been a practicing pediatrician for more than a decade, was initially skeptical of getting involved with the supplement industry. But she says that she joined SpoonfulOne because she believes that it may legitimately address the recent spike in food allergies among children. Many experts now believe that food allergies are often due to a lack of early exposure to certain foods and, in theory, a protein supplement that contains the allergenic parts of these foods could help children develop their immune systems from the earliest ages.
Swanson spoke with Fatherly about the science behind how SpoonfulOne works, and what parents need to know about introducing diversity into their kids’ diets to prevent food allergies.
As a pediatrician, what made you get involved with SpoonfulOne?
First, it was not founded by business people. It was a company founded by pediatrician scientists, moms, and entrepreneurs. The tide is changing about what we know about prevention when it comes to food allergies and the typical way forward is to just keep working in your lab and you keep publishing papers, and you keep trying to change things that way. For me, joining the company became this incredible opportunity to say, “Gosh, can we do this in a totally different way?”
Can you explain why we have so many food allergies nowadays?
I have a 10-year-old boy and when he was born the advice that pediatricians and scientists agreed on was to hold off on these high allergenic foods, like peanuts, eggs, fish, and shellfish. What we’re learning now is that there are about 6 million kids with food allergies, about two kids in each classroom, and it’s doubled over the past decade. We think most likely the largest factor in the doubling of food allergies is delayed exposure. We think there might be environmental factors as well, but genetics don’t explain it. What we did is we actually created part of the problem.
And how does SpoonfulOne address this problem?
Recently there’ve been some landmark studies, especially since 2015. The LEAP study took infants that were at high risk for developing peanut allergies and instead of delaying exposure, they gave them peanut products regularly, all the way through their preschool years. And when they got to kindergarten those kids were 80 percent less likely to develop peanut allergies. And it’s not just peanuts. In fact, you want exposure to all these different potential allergens regularly.
But it’s really hard to imagine feeding your baby fish, shrimp, nut, soy, and milk every day. So we wanted to make that more convenient.
Is there such a thing as exposing a child to these allergens too early?
There’s such a thing as too early exposure to solid foods for other reasons, so we don’t want them to start until four to six months. What we’re saying is that between four and 10 months old, if you’re exposing your baby to solid foods, we want you to expose them to everything.
So, even though it’s technically a supplement, it’s not really a supplement?
This is not an Ensure, or a PediaSure, or a replacement meal for a child who doesn’t want to eat well. This is designed for babies who are healthy and families that say, “I want to introduce my baby to all the healthy natural whole foods gradually, along with breastmilk.” But and in addition, “I want to use the science today to introduce my baby to all sorts of diversity in their diet, every day, to help grow a healthy immune system.” So this is a mix-in on top of all those lovely foods that we want to and will continue to encourage families as pediatricians to introduce to their kids.
Do we know anything about if this helps with picky eating?
I love that! But probably not [laughs]. SpoonfulOne is sadly not going to make your baby all of the sudden ask for a shrimp taco, because this isn’t necessarily about exposure to all different flavors, and pickiness has to do with so many different factors. There are about eight foods that cause 90 percent of the food allergies in the U.S., and SpoonfulOne expands this to include 16 of them.
It’s made to taste good, but it’s not made to taste like 16 different flavors.
Supplements are a growth industry and loosely regulated by the FDA, and there’s a lot of evidence that many supplements for adults are ineffective. How do you address skepticism about the supplement industry as a whole while promoting one for babies?
I have that skepticism too and the supplement industry is full of things that I don’t think carry science behind them. Healthy skepticism about the supplement industry is really important. The FDA regulates them as food—and we also have our own testing and protocols in place as well because we’re feeding it to babies. But this is whole foods, mixed together, made safe, and packed to make it convenient during a time in life, infancy and toddlerhood, when it’s really hard to give your kid all the diverse foods. I have been very wary and very critical of supplements in the past because I don’t want parents to waste their money if there isn’t data that shows it does any good. We have data that early and often exposure to diverse diets and foods will likely reduce the risk of them developing allergies. This is just a group of foods that you’re able to feed your baby during a time that’s difficult to give them that.
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