Actor Justin Baldoni opens up about a history of food allergies in his family, and why he chose to do something that many parents are afraid to do.
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Credit: Photo: Colin Young-Wolff / National Peanut Board / AP Images

When he's not busy starring in The CW's smash-hit comedy Jane The Virgin, actor Justin Baldoni is making waves in the health industry with his approach to food allergy prevention.

Aside from playing one of television's most beloved father characters, Baldoni is using his real-life fatherhood experience, in partnership with the National Peanut Board to raise awareness about the difficulties of peanut allergies for parents. His goal? Baldoni wants parents to introduce peanuts into their children's diets as early as possible to as a preventative measure.

In an interview with Cooking Light, Baldoni explained that he grew up with a sister who has suffered from severe allergies her entire life. “Of all the things my son will have to deal with in his life, I hope that peanut allergies [won't be] one of them,” Baldoni said.

When it comes to his first daughter, Maiya, the 2-year-old hasn't shown any symptoms of peanut allergies. But after the birth of his second child, Maxwell, Baldoni says he checked in with his pediatrician for advice on how to handle the possibility of food allergies with his newborn son.

The doctor ended up citing a study called "Learning Early About Peanut Allergy" (or LEAP), published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015. The study found that infants at a high risk for peanut allergies can benefit from consuming peanut products at a young age, when the child's immune system is just developing and the exposure can "elicit a protective immune response instead of an allergic immune reaction."

More than 600 infants between four and 11 months old were assessed until they turned five years old: Half were restricted from peanuts while others began eating peanut-laced snacks at least three times a week.

17 percent of those children who avoided peanuts developed a peanut allergy by age five. But only three percent of those who had consumed peanuts later developed allergies.

After discussing options and with his child’s doctor and consulting a dietitian, Baldoni and his wife, Emily, decided to begin introducing peanuts to their 5-month-old son. 

Credit: Photo: Colin Young-Wolff / National Peanut Board / AP Images

At first, the couple started mixing in a very small amount of peanut powder into breast milk, spoon feeding Maxwell the coarser mixture about three times a week. 

Despite having spent considerable time consulting professionals, the decision to deliberately add a possibly life-threatening ingredient to his son's food wasn't easy, Baldoni said.

“Emily and I were a bit hesitant because it’s our new baby and the last thing we’d ever want is to give him something that could be harmful,” he said.  

Baldoni understands that taking the risk of introducing food allergens is something that is a very personal decision for a parent. But he thinks his story could help families across the nation who are wondering if this approach could help them avoid one of the most serious food allergies, too.

For those who want to learn more about introducing peanuts to their children early on, Baldoni stresses the importance of tackling the subject with a pediatrician—and taking the time to read up on current research as well. The National Peanut Board has also spearheaded a new website as a resource for parents, which allows users to learn more about their child's risk level and to hear more stories from families who have also introduced allergens at an earlier age.

Food allergies are not the only health matter that the Baldoni family focuses on, either— nutrition is a priority for Justin and his kids. The actor says that both he and his wife grew up in families that considered food as medicine, so their routine day-to-day diet focuses on clean and wholesome foods.

The biggest rule for their children is to avoid processed snacks and products, and to avoid added sugar as much as possible. Snack time for 2-year-old Maiya often translates to fresh fruit, and the family's fridge is stocked with local offerings and organic options.

And their go-to, on-the-go meal for Maiya? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat bread.