NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Living With a Nut Allergy

Living With a Nut Allergy


An allergy occurs when your body's immune system, which normally fights infection, overreacts to a substance called an allergen. Most allergens are not obviously harmful and they have no effect on people who are not allergic to them.  People often go through life not even knowing they have an allergy.  They might say, “Strawberries don’t agree with me” or “I don’t like the taste of blueberries” and without further thought avoid those foods.

There are lots of different allergens but nuts cause some of the strongest and most severe reactions. For many people with a peanut or tree nut allergy, even a tiny amount may cause an allergic reaction.  A severe reaction to nuts is called anaphylaxis and can be life-threatening. Symptoms often start quickly, within an hour of coming into contact with a nut, and sometimes within minutes.

Most people with nut allergy react after contact with small amounts (less than one nut) and some people may react to trace amounts. This means that you don't always have to eat nuts to have a reaction. Cross-contamination, touching something or someone that has touched nuts, can also cause a reaction.  A few people are so sensitive to nut allergens that a tiny amount on their lips, or even standing next to someone eating peanuts, can be enough to start a reaction.

Preventing an allergic reaction from happening in the first place is a key part of living with a nut allergy.  If you are allergic to peanuts, you may need to avoid tree nuts like walnuts and almonds. Same goes if you’re allergic to tree nuts -- you may need to avoid peanuts. Tree nuts include: Almonds,  Brazil nuts, Cashews, Chestnuts,  Filberts, Hazelnuts, Hickory nuts,  Macadamia nuts, Pecans, Pine nuts, Pistachios and Walnuts.


Nuts are a very common ingredient in foods – especially home-baked foods. Don't be surprised to find peanuts or tree nuts in foods like these:


  • Baked goods. Cookies, candy, pastries, piecrusts, and others.
  • Candy. Chocolate candy especially; also nougat and marzipan.
  • Other sweets. Ice cream, frozen desserts, puddings, and hot chocolate.
  • Cereals and granola
  • Chex mix
  • Chili and soups. Peanuts or peanut butter are sometimes used as thickeners.
  • Grain breads
  • High-energy bars
  • Honey
  • International foods. Nuts are common in African and Asian cooking (especially Thai and Indian); also in Mexican and Mediterranean foods.
  • Meat-free burgers
  • Sauces. May include hot sauce, pesto, gravy, mole sauce, glazes, or marinades.
  • Salads and salad dressing
  • Continue reading below...



    Tips for Avoiding Nuts

  • Beware of cross-contact. Foods that don't contain peanuts or tree nuts can get contaminated if they are prepared in the same place or using the same equipment. Foods sold in the U.S. must say this on the label. Cross-contamination also occurs in ice cream parlors because of shared scoopers and other equipment.
  • Check the label each time you buy a product. Manufacturers sometimes change recipes, and a trigger food may be added to the new one.
  • Look for peanuts outside the kitchen. In addition to foods, nuts can be in lotions, shampoos, and pet food. Check labels before you buy or use them.  
  • When eating out, ask staff which foods contain nuts and the risk of contamination of other foods. If possible, speak to the chef, not the waiter or waitress.
  • Avoid eating foods at buffets or from delicatessens or bakeries where it is easy for food to be contaminated by touching other foods containing nuts.
  • Do not eat anything you are unsure about.
  • If friends or family prepare food for you, make sure they know what you can't eat.
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