5 Things You Need to Know About Tree Nut Allergies Before You Shop

November 21, 2014

Tree nut allergies are all the more common, especially now that people are eating more and more tree nuts. Find out what you need to know before your next shop.

According to Food Allergy Research and Education, approximately 1.8 million Americans are allergic to tree nuts. The reactions are among the leading causes of fatal and near-fatal reactions to foods. Tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and more. Tree nuts are not: peanuts, which are legumes, or seeds, such as sunflower or sesame. Most who are diagnosed with a tree nut allergy must avoid them for life.

Whether it’s you or someone you know with a tree nut allergy, avoiding allergens is a must. SupermarketGuru has compiled a list of the things you must know when shopping for a tree nut allergy.

Always ask! Tree nuts are very versatile ingredients and can sometimes pop up in unexpected places. It is important to stay vigilant and read labels. Here are some unexpected foods that may contain tree nuts: salads and dressing, barbecue sauce, breading for chicken, pancakes, meat-free burgers, pasta, fish dishes, pie crust and honey.

Labeling is required. All FDA regulated manufactured food products that contain a tree nut as an ingredient, are required by law to list the specific tree nut on the product label.

What exactly to look for on labels? Avoid foods that contain nuts or any of these ingredients: almond, artificial nuts, beechnut, Brazil nut, butternut, cashew, chestnut, chinquapin, coconut, filbert/hazelnut, ginkgo nut, hickory nut, litchi/lichee/lychee nut, macadamia nut, marzipan/almond paste, Nangai nut, natural nut extract (e.g. almond), nut butters (e.g. cashew butter), nut meal, nut meat, nut paste (e.g. almond paste), nut pieces, pecan, pesto, pili nut, pine nut (also referred to as Indian, pignoli, pigñolia, pignon, piñon, and pinyon nut), pistachio, praline, shea nut, and walnut.

Cross contamination. Similar to a peanut allergy, it is important to read labels for the ingredients listed above, as well as paying attention to the statement on the label, “produced on shared equipment with tree nuts…” Products with this label should also be avoided. To the same tune, ice cream served in an ice cream shop should be avoided; cross-contamination occurs frequently because of shared scoops.

What about coconut? Coconut is the seed of a drupaceous fruit, and has typically not been restricted in the diets of people with tree nut allergy. The same for shea nut butter. The confusion is with the labeling of coconuts; in October 2006, the FDA began identifying coconut as a tree nut. Ask your doctor if you need to avoid coconut.

Keep in mind that allergies are individual and it is important to discuss with your physician how to go about testing various “safe” tree nut foods so that you can find out what works for you.

For more information visit Food Allergy Research and Education.