An allergy to peanuts or tree nuts is the most common type of food allergy. Since eating or inhaling even a tiny amount can cause a serious reaction, you’ll need to avoid all obvious and not-so-obvious sources. Here are our top tips to help you live nut-free
The peanut is a member of the legume (bean) family – like soya, lentils and peas. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘ground nut’ because it grows from the ground (not on a tree). About one in 100 people in the UK is allergic to peanuts – a rate that is on the increase – and sufferers rarely grow out of it as they get older.
Tree nuts are a type of seed from plants and do grow on trees. Tree nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. About one in 200 people in the UK have an allergy to tree nuts and if you have a peanut allergy you may also have an adverse reaction to tree nuts. You have more chance of developing an allergy to nuts if you – or someone in your close family – have atopy, a group of allergic conditions including hay fever, asthma and eczema.
Check the label
If you have a nut allergy you’ll need to check food labels carefully – and regularly, as manufacturers do change recipes and cooking methods. Of course, you won’t be able to eat nut butters and nut breads but you’ll also find nuts in cakes, biscuits and pies, chocolate, nougat and marzipan, cereals and muesli, ready-made meals and puddings, energy bars, honey, ice-cream, sauces and dressings, and even soups (nuts are often used to thicken foods). Ready-made food may contain almond paste, nut extracts, peanut flour and nut oils. Hydrolysed plant or vegetable protein – and even some veggie food – can also be peanut-based.
To avoid eating nuts, use clearly labelled free-from food from a trusted retailer, speak to the chef at restaurants and avoid buffets or foods from displays where other foods that may contain nuts are alongside nut-free items. Cross-contamination can occur if foods with nuts are prepared in the same area or with the same utensils as those without nuts. It’s important that anyone caring for a child with a nut allergy – be it a teacher, party host or relative – is aware of the allergy, which foods trigger the allergy, the allergy symptoms and how to treat them. Children with an allergy must also avoid sharing food, if there’s a chance that it has come into contact with nuts, or traces of nuts. It’s also a good idea to wear an allergy bracelet and carry an auto-injector pen, if you have been given one.
Other nut-based ingredients
Outside the kitchen, you might find nut-based ingredients in lotions, shampoos, pet food and even garden compost. To be on the safe side you’ll need to check those labels, too. Armed with the right advice and resources you’ll soon be on top of your nut allergy.
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