Peas & Figs

Celebrating what you can eat

Nut Free Diet

240 Intolerance Id 08

What is a nut allergy?

A nut allergy is a type of food allergy where the proteins in the nut have an allergenic effect on your body, causing your immune system to overreact to their presence. There are different types of nut allergy. If you are allergic to tree nuts it is likely you are allergic to more than one, although maybe not all, of the following types of nut: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. A peanut allergy is classified separately as peanuts are technically a legume, but many people are allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts.

An allergy to nuts is the most common type of severe food allergy, though the severity of nut allergies does vary greatly from person to person. In the UK, 0.5% of the population is allergic to tree nuts and about 0.1% to peanuts, a figure that is growing. Most people with a nut allergy will experience a reaction between 14 months and two years old. Only 20% of people with a nut allergy outgrow it and usually these are people with only a mild reaction in the first place.

How do I know if I’m allergic to nuts?

An allergic reaction will normally occur within an hour of contact with the allergen. Doctors will utilise a combination of history, skin prick tests, blood tests and exclusion diets to help diagnose the allergy. People with other allergic conditions such as hay fever, asthma, and eczema (collectively a condition called ‘atopy’) are more likely to develop a nut allergy.

Raw nut protein tends to trigger a worse reaction than nut oil or cooked nuts, but most people will react to less than one nut, many to just trace amounts and some to simply being near someone who is eating nuts.

Symptoms of a mild nut allergy include swelling in the face, tingling in the mouth and lips, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, nettle rash or hives and a feeling of constriction in the throat. People with a severe allergy may also experience swelling of the throat, a difficulty in breathing, as well as dilation of the blood vessels causing reddening of the skin, an elevated heart rate and low blood pressure – resulting in feeling dizzy or faint; this is known as anaphylaxis and requires immediate medical attention, as it can occasionally be fatal. It’s important to know that about 30% of people with a nut allergy will have a secondary allergic reaction up to eight hours after their first.

What does a nut-free diet entail?

The clue is in the name – avoid consuming nuts! This is relatively simple when it comes to avoiding whole nuts, but it’s not always obvious which processed foods contain nuts or traces of nuts. Breakfast cereals like Shreddies and Cornflakes, as well as cereal bars are often suspect, as are spreads like peanut butter and Nutella, dips, sauces and salad dressings. Vegetarian dishes like vegetarian sausages also often contain nut ingredients. Sweets, chocolate, ice cream and puddings regularly contain nuts or nut oils, which are also commonly used in baked goods – watch out for bread, cakes, pastries biscuits and macaroons.

Peanut extracts and oil are the most common nut related ingredients in processed food but can be listed under different names, such as groundnut oil or arachis oil. Hydrogenated vegetable oil also occasionally contains peanuts, though this is normally safe for all but the most sensitive allergic individuals. Sunflower oil, olive oil and safflower oil are normally safe to eat.

A note on labelling and eating out.

Always read the labels carefully and watch out for statements like ‘processed in a facility that also processes nuts’. Seemingly nut-free goods purchased from delicatessens or bakeries may have been contaminated by other foods that contain nuts touching them, so it is a good idea to avoid them too.

When dining out, chat to staff about which menu choices contain nuts or traces of nuts – Chinese, Thai and Indonesian cuisine particularly frequently use peanuts and peanut oil in their ingredients.

What are the advantages of going nut-free?

The advantages of eating nut-free are evident for someone with a severe nut allergy. However, even if you only have a mild nut allergy, exposure to the allergenic proteins in nuts may exacerbate your allergy and cause it to get worst over time, so it is a good idea to eat nut-free whenever possible.

Another notable advantage of eating nut-free is that nuts are high in calories and quite fatty. Cutting nut-related produce like spreads and deserts out of your diet also often means almost unintentionally reducing your sugar and salt intake, as both are often combined with nut ingredients. So eating nut-free can often have more advantages for health.

What are the risks of going nut-free?

Nuts are a great source of protein, Omega-3 fatty acids (good for the heart), vitamins and minerals. However, if you are on a healthy and well- balanced nut-free diet, all of the goodies provided by nuts can easily be sourced elsewhere. 

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