Tree nut allergy is in its own category in the top 8 most common food allergens and is not grouped together with a peanut allergy as you might think. This is because peanuts grow in the ground (they are actually a legume) and tree nuts, of course, grow in trees.
Because they are not in the same family of foods, they have different proteins that cause allergic reactions. Therefore, if you have a tree nut allergy, you might tolerate peanuts and vice versa.
Also, you may only be allergic to one type of tree nut, such as walnuts, and be able to tolerate other tree nuts, like almonds, just fine.
What makes managing peanut and tree nut allergies tricky? Well, a couple of things. First, peanuts and tree nuts are often produced and packaged in the same facilities and production lines. This means that the risk of cross-contact is high. Second, peanut and tree nut allergies are usually not mild. Most people with these allergies have more serious reactions.
In my experience, the most difficult part of managing these allergies, in particular, is preventing cross-contact. From avoiding foods produced near peanuts and tree nuts to family gatherings where nuts are present, managing a nut allergy can be a challenge. However, with careful label reading and knowing which foods commonly contain nuts, it is possible.
Following are some resources to help you avoid tree nuts:
List of Tree Nuts
The following chart is from the US Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. It includes all tree nuts that are required to be listed on food labels.
Common or usual name
Ingredients Containing Tree Nuts
Following is a list of tree nuts and some ingredients that contain tree nuts:
- Almond - butter, paste (marzipan), flavoring, extract
- Brazil nut
- Cashews - butter, flavoring, extract
- Chestnuts (water chestnuts are OK, they're not nuts despite their name)
- Hazelnuts or filberts
- Hickory nuts
- Macadamia nuts, Queensland nuts
- Pine nuts, pinon, pignoli
- Gianduja (chopped nuts mixed with chocolate)
- Nu-Nuts artificial nuts
- Nut Meal
- Mashuga nuts (pecans)
- Nut paste
Foods Commonly Containing Tree Nuts
- Baked Goods - breads, muffins, cakes, cookies, bars, pastries, doughnuts, frostings
- Snack Foods - granola, granola bars, rice cakes, snack mixes, crackers, caramel corn
- Asian Foods
- Candy - candy bars, brittle candies, chocolate, fudge, pralines, turtles, clusters
A Word About Coconut
Coconut is included in the list of tree nuts by the FDA and must be clearly identified on food labels. However, botanically speaking, coconut is not a tree nut. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, many people with a tree nut allergy can safely eat coconut and coconut products.
If you are unsure if coconut is safe for you, ask your allergist.
Nut-Free Recipes and Substitutes
All of the recipes here are free of the top 8 allergens including tree nuts with the exception of coconut. However, when coconut-based products are used, alternative suggestions are made for those of you who do need to avoid it.