Women who snack on nuts during pregnancy are less likely to have children with asthma and allergies, according to Danish research.
After studying more than 60,000 mothers and children, the researchers found that children born to mothers who eat nuts in pregnancy were 25 percent less likely to suffer asthma when they were 18 months old and 34 percent less likely to suffer asthma at seven years, compared with mothers who didn’t eat nuts.
The children of mothers who ate tree nuts (almonds, brazils, cashews, hazelnuts) were also 20 percent less likely to have other allergies.
In the past, pregnant women were told to avoid nuts because health authorities believed they could increase an unborn child's risk of allergy. Asthma in childhood is often caused by allergies.
But in recent years the advice has changed, with experts believing there is no clear evidence that nut consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding has any impact on a child developing an allergy.
This results of the study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, suggest eating nuts could have a protective effect on babies.
"We found that maternal peanut and tree nut intake one or more times per week during pregnancy decreases the risk of allergic disease in childhood. These results do not support avoidance of nuts during pregnancy," study author Ekaterina Maslova, from Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, wrote in the report.
Professor Katie Allen, a paediatric gastroenterologist and allergist at Murdoch Children's Research Institute, told ninemsn the study is good news for mothers.
"This is highly relevant data for mothers with decisions about what they do when they are pregnant," she said.
"The guidelines in the past have been based on a lack of evidence. This is really good, robust evidence that it's safe to eat peanuts during pregnancy – you won't increase your child's risk of peanut allergy."
But Professor Allen said more studies are needed to confirm whether eating peanuts and tree nuts in pregnancy can have a protective effect.
"What we need is randomised control trials where we use something to try to prevent something happening," she said.
This comes after recent research from the Australian National University last month found children who are solely fed breast milk in the first six months of their life are more likely to develop a nut allergy than children who were exposed to other foods and fluids.
"Our results contribute to the argument that breast feeding alone does not appear to be protective against nut allergy in children –– it may, in fact, be causative of allergy," Marjan Kljakovic, professor of General Practice at the ANU Medical School, said in a media release.
"Over time, health authorities' recommendations for infant feeding habits have changed, recommending complementary foods such as solids and formula be introduced later in life. Despite breast feeding being recommended as the sole source of nutrition in the first six months of life, an increasing number of studies have implicated breast feeding as a cause of the increasing trend in nut allergy."