Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Nut or Not? Food Allergy Facts and Myths January 2, 2018

When you get a food allergy diagnosis, there is so much to learn… including what foods ARE and ARE NOT safe to eat. Let’s clear up some of the confusion surrounding different allergens and which food groups they belong in.  As always, speak with your allergist before adding any new food into your diet.

 

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COCONUT:  Coconuts are actually a member of the palm fruit family.  And, although they have “nut” in the name, they are not officially a nut.  That said, the FDA classifies them as a nut so you will see “TREE NUTS” listed on many U.S. product labels when coconut is an ingredient.

Verdict: While some people are allergic to coconut, most patients with a tree nut allergy can safely eat it.  Speak with your doctor before trying.

 

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NUTMEG:  Nutmeg is a spice that comes from seeds, not nuts.  Again, although “nut” is in the name, it’s technically NOT a tree nut.

Verdict:  According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), it can safely be consumed by those with tree nut allergies.

 

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PINE NUTS:  You may have heard the rumor that pine nuts are actually seeds.  And, that’s true.  BUT, there is some evidence of cross-reaction between pine nuts and peanut and almond allergies.  Doctors and researchers cannot isolate whether reactions to pine nuts are due to cross-reaction or to a separate pine nut allergy.  The FDA labels it as a tree nut.

Verdict:  Those allergic to tree nuts should AVOID eating pine nuts.

 

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WATER CHESTNUTS:  Another case of mislabeling.  Water Chestnuts are an aquatic vegetable.  They are named for their shape that resembles a chestnut.  Like any food, occasionally people find themselves allergic to water chestnuts.  But they are not tree nuts.

Verdict:  Those with tree nut allergies do NOT need to avoid water chestnuts.

 

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SHEA NUT:  Shea nut butter and shea nut oil can be found in many skin and beauty products.  Both shea nut butter and shea nut oil are derived from the seed of the shea tree’s fruit.  The shea nut is a distant relative of the Brazil nut and, as such, FDA considers shea nut a tree nut and will label it as such on ingredient lists.  Per Dr. Sicherer (via Allergic Living, read more here), studies have shown that only trace amounts of protein reside in shea nut butter or oil and no reports of topical immediate reaction or ingestion have been reported.

Verdict: Although allergy to shea nut appears to be unlikely because shea nut butter and oil lacks protein, please discuss with your allergist to get individualized guidance.

 

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ARGAN OIL:  Argan oil comes from the nut of a tree commonly found in the Moroccan desert.  Because the oil is cold-pressed, it is likely to contain protein. Argan oil is becoming an increasingly common ingredient in hair products such as styling oil, shampoo, conditioner as well as other beauty products.  You should check out how they’re made; it’s surprising!

Verdict:  If you’re allergic to tree nuts, it’s probably best to avoid Argan oil until you discuss with your allergist.

 

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH:  Again, it’s a misnomer:  there is “nut” in the name, but not in the product.  As you guessed, butternut squash is a vegetable.

Verdict:  Butternut squash is not only safe for those with tree nuts to consume, it’s also delicious!

 

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Most of the above products are safe for those with food allergies (woohoo!), but you should always discuss your particular allergies with your doctor before adding any food you are unsure of to your diet.

 

For your reference, here is the US Food and Drug Administration’s list of Tree Nuts:

  • Almond
  • Beech Nut
  • Brazil Nut
  • Butternut
  • Cashew
  • Chestnut
  • Chinquapin
  • Coconut
  • Filbert/Hazelnut
  • Ginko Nut
  • Hickory Nut
  • Lichee Nut
  • Macadamia Nut/Bush Nut
  • Pecan
  • Pine Nut/Pinon Nut
  • Pili Nut
  • Pistachio
  • Sheanut
  • Walnut/Heartnut/Butternut

Tree Nut or Not_

 

Advocacy: Sesame Seed Labeling September 7, 2017

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Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I teamed up with Allergy & Asthma Network, a leading non-profit, to begin a discussion about adding sesame seeds to ingredient labels.  We met with committees on Capitol Hill who were receptive to our argument.  It’s a first step in a potentially long process – but a step in the right direction!

 

Sesame: the 9th Food Allergen? explains the rise in sesame allergy and the difficulty faced by those who are allergic.  When the Director of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dr. Robert Wood spoke to WebMD in 2012, he believed sesame seed allergy was so prevalent that it had likely climbed to the 6th or 7th most common allergen in the U.S.

 

Without required labeling, sesame seeds can be masked under many different names.  They appear in both food as well as hygiene and beauty products.  There is a relationship between tree nut allergies and sesame seed allergy – those allergic to one are three times as likely to be allergic to the other.  But unlike nut allergies, sesame oil can cause potentially severe reactions for those who are allergic.

 

Currently, only the “Top 8” allergens are required to be explicitly labeled in the United States.  Those allergens are:

Dairy

Eggs

Soy

Fish

Shellfish

Peanuts

Tree Nuts

Wheat

Many other industrialized nations already label for sesame seeds including Canada, the European Union, Australia, and Israel.

 

I will keep you posted on new developments as we continue to speak to decision-makers on this and other key allergen issues.

 

Teaching Teachers About Ingredient Lists February 29, 2012

I know that there’s an awful lot of extra things teachers need to do to watch over their kids during the school day.  In addition to instruction, teachers pay attention to physical and emotional health and socialization.  And, I hate to add to that list, but I think teachers need to learn to read food labels.

 

As we all know, food allergies are on the rise.  So much so, that in my son’s first grade class of 18 children, at least 6 kids have mild to severe food allergies not including his teacher who also is allergic to gluten.

 

In an effort to become more food allergy friendly, my son’s school began requiring parents to bring in ingredient lists for all food brought in from outside.  Whether it’s homemade or store-bought, all treats to be shared with other children (as in class parties, birthday celebrations, etc) need to be accompanied with a list of ingredient.  A good start, but who’s there to police it?  Parents are generally not given the “heads-up” on the food being served at these parties.  Therefore, it becomes the teacher’s job to read labels and ensure the treat’s safety for each child.  Imagine the job that is for my son’s class.  And, we have a food allergy-savvy teacher!

 

And, it’s not all about class parties. Take the case of the bird feeders (See Peanut-Free Bird Feeders: Lesson Learned) that our Hebrew school assured us were completely nut-free.  The administration sure could’ve used some lessons in reading labels!  Without the unprompted forethought from my son’s teacher, we would have assuredly had some problems.

 

Something about this system needs to change.  We need to either keep the party offerings to whole, healthy foods (and communicate with food allergic parents) or we need to teach the teachers how to read ingredient labels.  Or both.  It’s not hard to know what to look for when reading ingredient lists (we all learned!  See Food Allergies and Food Labels: What You Need to Know).  Plus, it could prove to be a valuable line of defense against a potential reaction.

 

FDA Petition: Help Warn FA Families of Ingredient Changes February 8, 2011

The FDA is considering a petition which would require food companies to display the advisory statement “Ingredient Information Has Changed” on the front of packaging when one or more of the 8 major food allergens has been added to their product (allergens which has not previously been included).
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This petition is open for the general public and it is encouraged that everyone leave comments as this has an impact on the FDA’s decision.   Go to http://www.regulations.gov and enter the docket number (FDA-2010-P-0578-0001) in the Enter Keyword or ID: search field.   You may also go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=10;so=DESC;sb=postedDate;po=0;s=FDA-2010-P-0578-0001 and scroll to the bottom of the page to view the full  petition and make a comment. If you have any questions contact Dwayne Ratleff at dratleff@yahoo.com.
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Note:  It is not recommended that this potential regulation substitute for the continued need to check all food labels.  Food allergic families will always need to keep checking ingredient lists and manufacturing lines to ensure the safety of their FA family members.  This would just add another layer of defense against an inadvertent reaction.
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Please pass this information on to other food allergic families.   Thank you!