by Lezli R. Stone

You just finished your food allergy testing at the Arizona Asthma & Allergy Institute to discover you have an allergy to nuts, specifically peanuts or tree nuts.
So let’s start with some specific definitions so this doesn’t “drive you nuts”.

What is a peanut?

The name “peanut” is somewhat misleading because peanuts are actually part of the legume family, which includes foods such as beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Fortunately, the majority of people with a peanut allergy are not allergic to other members of the legume family.

What is a tree nut?

Tree nuts are actually dried fruit and include over 20 different types of nuts. Tree nuts you might be familiar with are walnuts, pecans, almonds, pine nuts, cashews, and coconuts. Walnuts and cashews usually cause the most allergic reactions. There is a strong possibility of cross–reactivity among various families of tree nuts so people who are allergic to one type of tree nut usually are advised to avoid all tree nuts.
Peanut and tree nut allergies have a tendency to be strongly associated with severe reactions so identifying processed foods that contain any nuts is extremely important. If diagnosed with a nut allergy you must become a very diligent LABEL READER! Any food sold in the USA must state on the label if it contains peanuts or tree nuts.
A potentially tricky area of managing an allergy to peanuts or tree nuts can be eating away from home. Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Always let your meal server know of your allergy and remember any type of cuisine can contain nuts.
  2. Keep food choices simple, for example avoid sauces and stir-fried dishes.
  3. Try Japanese Food, this cuisine tends to use nuts less frequently.

Peanuts and tree nuts are high in calories, (one cup of macadamia nuts is about 900 calories) so even though you are now avoiding the extra calories, you may miss the nutty flavor. Fortunately, there are some viable safe substitutes.

Butter spreads to try:

  1. IM Healthy Soy Nut Butter – Nice substitute for peanut butter and is great on a celery stick or with apple slices.
  2. Sunflower Butter – Has a taste very similar to peanut butter and can be used in baking.

Eat more seeds:

Always check with your physician first, but often (not always) people with nut allergies can safely eat seeds. Sunflower, pumpkin, flax and sesame seeds are acceptable substitutes for tree nuts or peanuts and provide similar nutritional value and taste.
Sunflower and pumpkins seeds are rare allergens so these are your best options. Sesame seeds cause the most allergic reactions in the seed family.
Seeds can be eaten as a snack, added to cooked vegetables or to hot cereal in the morning for a delicious flavor.

Cooking with nut free products:

  1. Enjoy Life’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips are great for chocolate chip cookies.
  2. I.M. Healthy Southern Home Style Corn Flake and Tortilla Crumbs can be used as breading when cooking chicken or fish.
  3. Try substituting “pumpkin seeds” for “almonds” in bread or muffin recipes.

Living without peanuts or tree nuts can take some work but remember there are now many safe alternatives to enjoy!
Please keep a look-out for our next article on grocery shopping with food allergies.

Lezli Stone is a Registered Dietician and a consulting clinical staff member of the Arizona Asthma & Allergy Institute. She counsels AAAI patients about food allergies and nutrition. She is authoring a four-part series of articles about living with food allergies, which will be posted on this website over the next few months.