Spotlight on... Nut-free diets
Nutritionist Jo Lewin gives an overview of nut allergies, including foods to avoid, how to read labels and safe recipes to eat on a nut-free diet.
Introduction: nuts and seeds - the facts...
Nuts and seeds are responsible for plant reproduction. Locked inside them is the genetic material for an entire plant to grow. The word 'nut' commonly refers to the seed of a tree, encased in a shell. There are more than 300 types of nuts, and every plant has a seed. In terms of worldwide production, the coconut is by far the most widely grown and used, followed by the peanut - both of which are classed as seeds. One of the reasons for their abundance is that they are the leading ingredients of cooking oils and margarines.
There are significant safety issues with nut and seed consumption. Nuts are among the foods most commonly associated with allergic reactions. Allergies are different from intolerances and involve an immediate immune response upon exposure to the allergen. Symptoms include rashes, hives, asthma attacks or inflammation and in severe cases and cause anaphylaxis, a severe, possibly life-threatening allergic reaction which can affect the airways, breathing or circulation.
Nut free diets
A strict diet free from nuts involves the avoidance of any tree nuts and seeds such as:
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
An individual's chance of being allergic to nuts increases if other family members are allergic.
...A note about peanuts 'Arachis hypogaea'
The most widespread 'nut' allergy is to peanuts. The peanut is not actually a nut but a member of the legume (bean) family. Other members of this family include soya beans, lentils and garden peas. Peanuts line up in their pods and are grown in the ground rather than on trees, and so are sometimes referred to as ground nuts. If a reaction occurs, such as tingling in the mouth, emergency medical help should be sought immediately.
One of the difficulties with allergies is that it's impossible to tell if a reaction will be worse upon subsequent exposures. Even if the reaction was mild initially, a potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis reaction may happen upon further exposure. Symptoms of an allergic reaction could include:
- Closing up of the throat
- Tingling feeling in the lips or mouth
- Severe asthma
- Itching or swelling in the mouth
- Nausea or vomiting
- Faintness and unconsciousness
If an allergic reaction to nuts is suspected, make an appointment with your GP or NHS allergy clinic to confirm diagnosis.