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.

Spotlight on... Nut-free diets

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 hard 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 - so if you have an allergy and are eating away from home, be sure to check ingredients of any prepared foods. Food service industries including restaurants and take-aways are required by law to provide details of 14 everyday allergens, including peanuts and tree nuts.



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:

  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • CashewsAllergy
  • Chestnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

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, however, if you are allergic to peanuts you do not have a greater chance of being allergic to any other legume. Peanuts are the seeds which 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.


If you have a nut allergy, care should be taken with all foods but special attention should be give to...
blended oils, unrefined or
gourmet peanut, arachis,
groundnut oils etc...
Almonds, coconut biscuits, macaroons, etc...

Peanut butter, chestnut puree,
chocolate & hazelnut spread, praline spread, sweet mincemeat, etc...

Nut yogurt, nut ice-cream, cakes, puddings containing nuts, etc...

Breakfast cereals
Nut cornflakes, fruit & fibre, muesli, etc...
Asian sauces
Vegetarian products
Nut loaf, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian sausages, etc...
Christmas cake, fruit cake, stollen, marzipan, etc...
Nuts, nougat, nut brittle, halva,
Snickers, Topic, Bounty, Liquorice Allsorts, pralines, Florentines, Toblerone, etc...
Dips & sauces
Pesto, Waldorf dressing, etc...


health implicationsHealth implications

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
  • Hives
  • 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.

Things to watch out forSeeds

There are various theories about why peanut allergies are increasing. Peanuts and peanut oil are inexpensive ingredients, so they're used in a huge number of processed foods, such as cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, breads and confectionery as well as take-aways and fast food, and this increased use might be partly to blame.

Seeds: Many people with peanut or tree nut allergies are able to eat seeds without any problems. Both coconut and pine nuts are seeds rather than nuts, and the majority of nut allergic people can eat them, although always check with your GP if unsure.

Food labelling: Labelling has now improved and ingredients that pose a potential allergy risk must be highlighted or printed in bold so consumers may easily recognise them.

Pregnancy: Whether you should avoid consuming nuts during pregnancy is debated. Unless you have a strong history of allergies, such as asthma or eczema in either of the parents' families, you should be safe to continue eating peanuts. Some evidence suggests that eating a small amount during pregnancy can actually help prevent allergies developing but always check with your GP if unsure.


Nut-free recipes

Whether you are allergic to nuts or just don't like them, we have stacks of recipes that are nut-free - here are a few to get you started:

Pea & broad bean houmous with goat’s cheese & sourdough Starters/Salads/Small Plates:
Crisp prosciutto, pea & mozzarella salad with mint vinaigrette
Pea & broad bean hummus with goat's cheese & sourdough
Lemony prawn bruschettas
Bean, chickpea & feta salad


Main meals for all the family:
Chicken breast with avocado salad
Pumpkin, halloumi & chilli omelette
Beef cannelloni
Summer chicken one-pot

Sweet satisfaction:
Caramel apple crumble
Summer pudding
Easy chocolate cupcakes

Find more recipes in our nut-free collection


Helpful resources

Allergy UK

Frequently asked questions about labelling:
FSA: labelling

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

This article was last reviewed on 24 May 2016 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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