An allergy to peanuts or tree nuts is the most common type of food allergy.1
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 of nuts.
Here are our top tips to help you live nut-free.
What types of nut allergy are there?
The peanut is actually a member of the legume (bean) family. The peanut is sometimes referred to as a ‘ground nut’ because it grows from the ground (not on a tree).2
Around 1 in 200 UK adults lives with a nut allergy.3
Around 1 in 50 UK children have a peanut allergy, which is usually a lifelong allergy. This number is on the increase, too, meaning that growing numbers of children, young people adults are living with peanut allergies.4
Coconut isn’t technically a nut so doesn’t come under the umbrella of a nut allergy. However, it’s possible to be allergic to coconuts alongside a nut allergy.5
‘Tree nuts’ are a type of seed from plants and grow on trees. Tree nuts include:
- Brazil nuts
- macadamia nuts
Remember, if you have a peanut allergy you may also have a tree nut allergy. In fact, those with an existing peanut allergy are 30-40% more likely to develop a tree nut allergy.6
- Around 1 in 50 UK children and 1 in 200 adults lives with a nut allergy. This figure is on the rise
- Coconuts aren’t true nuts, so can usually eaten by those with nut allergies
- Consequences of being exposed to nuts can be serious for allergy sufferers
Tips for daily life with a nut allergy
Check every label
Check food labels carefully – and regularly, as manufacturers sometimes change recipes and production methods.
In the UK, potential allergens such as nuts must be highlighted in ingredients lists by law.7 The problem is you may not always think to check labels of products which contain ‘hidden’ nuts.
You’ll find nut protein, nut dust and nut oil sneaking into many foods which don’t appear to contain any nuts. The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to contain a nut derivative.
For example, ready-made food may contain almond paste, nut extracts, peanut flour and nut oils. Milled nuts are often used to thicken foods such as marinades, sauces or soups.
Cross-contamination can occur if foods containing nuts are prepared in the same area or with the same utensils as those without nuts.
This goes for factories and restaurants, but also home kitchens. For example, if a wooden spoon was used to stir a mix which had previously been used for peanut butter, this could be enough to trigger a reaction.
To avoid ingesting nuts, the safest option is to only use clearly labelled free-from food from a trusted retailer. These will have been made in a nut-free factory, where the machinery and preparation areas aren’t also used for making nut-based products.
It’s also a good idea to wear an allergy bracelet and carry an auto-injector pen, if you have been given one.
Plan ahead for eating out
More and more restaurants understand the need to cater to customer’s allergies, but you must still be on guard at all times when eating out.
A 2007 research study carried out in the USA found that out of 100 restaurant staff, 25% thought that removing the allergen from a prepared meal (e.g. taking off nuts) would be safe for the consumer.8
Research restaurants in the local area. Ask questions – do they understand the consequences if you are exposed to nuts? Have staff been trained in allergies? Can they guarantee that clean, stainless steel cooking utensils are used (no wooden chopping boards or spoons)? If in doubt, eat elsewhere.
Cuisines which commonly use nuts and nut oils include:9
- Chinese – peanut and cashew are common, as well as peanut oil in most dishes
- Indian – korma, tikka masala and pasanda commonly use ground-up nuts and nut oil, and breads often include almonds
- Indonesian – many popular dishes e.g. chicken satay, gado gado, lumpia contain nuts
- Thai – many foods are cooked in peanut oil. Popular dishes e.g. pad thai contain nuts
- Vietnamese – peanuts and cashews are common in sauces and as a garnish
- Mexican – common dishes like mole and picadillo contain nuts, desserts commonly use pecans
- Middle Eastern – toasted almonds are a common garnish, and most sweets contain nuts
Beware of meat substitutes
They’re innovative and delicious ways of eating meat-free, but you should be wary of mock-meat ingredients as they often utilise nuts as a way to replace the protein and thickness of meat.
Watch out for veggie burgers, vegan cheese, cutlets and hydrolysed plant protein as they often contain ground-up nuts.
Watch out for unlikely nut sources
Both wet and dry pet food, as well as pet treats and bones, sometimes contain traces of nuts. Contact some pet food manufacturers to double-check their products are nut-free.
Garden compost and mulch also commonly include peanut shells. Check with the manufacturer to be on the safe side.
Medicines and beauty products
Body lotions may contain shea nut butter, while shampoos, conditioners and other creams could contain macademia, almond or argan oil. Some vitamins, ear drops, nappy rash creams and eye pencils contain peanut oil, so check ingredients lists (it may be listed as arachis hypogaea).10
- Even nut traces can trigger a serious allergic reaction
- Research is required before trying any new foods
- It’s safest to stick with restaurants and brands of nut-free foods you know and trust
- Nuts can be found in everyday items like pet food and toiletries
Nut free chocolate
You will see the disclaimer ‘may contain traces of nuts’ on most chocolate. This means it’s been produced in a factory which also handles nuts.
It’s safest to avoid any product which carries this warning, as it means there’s a risk of cross-contamination. Choose a nut allergy-friendly brand instead – such as Kinnerton – which guarantees no nut traces in their chocolate.11
Otherwise, steer clear of selection boxes or loose, bagged chocolates. Only choose chocolates which has been individually wrapped along with others of the same type.
Many companies publish a list online of their products which are made in a nut-free environment, therefore can be considered free from all nut traces. Nut-free chocolates include:12
- Toffee Crisp
If you’re out and about, avoid the following:
- bulk bins with a scoop
- buffet and salad bars
- deli counters
- street food
Remember, in UK law, unpackaged food does not need to be labelled in the same way as packaged food. For instance, in a bakery they should have a sign near their bakes saying ‘may contain nuts’, but it’s not always obvious.
Delis, sandwich shops and cafes should be able to confidently guarantee no nuts or cross contamination, otherwise avoid them.
Snacks likely to contain nuts include:
- cereal bars
- energy bars
- ice cream
- baked goods
- chocolate spreads
Snacks that are unlikely to contain nuts include:13
- cream crackers
- plain pittas
- air-popped popcorn
- fromage frais and plain yoghurt
Nut free cake
Nuts are common ingredients in cakes. Even if you choose a cake which seems to contain no nuts, they’ll have most likely been made in a factory which handles nuts in the production of other cakes.
The safest option here is to choose cakes by free-from ranges, or better still, make your own at home.
Again, watch for hidden nuts. Cakes which are likely to contain hidden nuts include:14
- sponge cake
- Choose clearly labelled, pre-packaged food
- Avoid anything which ‘may contain traces of nuts’
- There is plenty of nut-free chocolate available, but homemade cakes might be best
- Carry nut-free snacks with you wherever you go
- Research is key – contact companies and ask which products have been made in nut free factories
Last updated: 2 June 2021