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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Beech Nut
- Brazil Nut
- Ginko Nut
- Hickory Nut
- Lichee Nut
- Macadamia Nut/Bush Nut
- Pine Nut/Pinon Nut
- Pili Nut