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Useful facts on nuts/almonds/peanuts (nøtter/mandler/peanøtter)

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Useful information concerning nuts/almonds/peanuts – NAAF’s fact sheet

What is nut allergy?

By nuts, we mean hazelnuts, cashew nuts, pistachio nuts, walnuts, pecan nuts, almonds, Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts. Peanuts, in biological terms, are not nuts, but legumes. Therefore some persons who are allergic to peanuts also show indications in blood tests and sometimes have an allergic reaction to other legumes such as peas, soya, beans, lupin flour and lentils. Coconut, nutmeg and water chestnuts belong to completely different families and do not cross-react with nuts/peanuts. It is possible to have an allergy to coconut; however, this is extremely rare.

Allergic reactions to foodstuffs occur where the body reacts to some proteins in the food. Nut allergy is one of the most common food allergies, and is a type of allergy which often lasts a lifetime. One of the reasons for it being so common is that a large percentage of the population have pollen allergy, which causes cross-allergy that can lead to cross-reactions, including to nuts.

What kind of reactions do nuts/almonds/peanuts cause in allergic individuals?

Allergies to nuts/peanuts can cause very serious reactions, but not in everyone.

The most common reactions to ingestion of nuts are tingling and swelling in the mouth and throat. Flare-up of eczema, urticaria, stomach pains and vomiting are also symptoms that may arise. In some cases, life-threatening reactions may occur (allergic shock).

Children appear to react more strongly than adults. Around half of children with peanut allergy react to odour, taste or touch; however, only 10% of adults with a peanut allergy.

What do people react to?

The reaction results from proteins in nuts/almonds/peanuts. Some persons react both to the ingestion of nuts and to nut dust present in the room. The most common reaction to nut dust is allergic runny nose/eyes, exacerbation of eczema and asthma attacks.

How is allergy to nuts/almonds/peanuts treated?

Food allergy is generally treated by excluding the non-tolerated foodstuff from the diet.

If one has a nut allergy, the nut or nuts reacted to must be eliminated. Some people have an allergy to all kinds of nuts, or believe it is simpler to eliminate nuts completely. This must be clarified in each individual case with a doctor. Nuts and peanuts have few allergy-provoking substances (allergens) in common. I.e. it is less likely that a person with an allergy against nuts reacts to peanuts than to other tree nuts that are more closely related.

What foods contain nuts/almonds/peanuts?

Foodstuffs that are based on nuts are nougat, nut spreads, almond brittle, macaroon filling, marzipan, marzipan ring cake and almond cake bases. Other foodstuffs that often contain nuts are cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals, salads, bread-based goods, desserts, chocolate, ice cream, pesto and some foreign dishes, for example oriental dishes.

Vegetable oil can be based on peanuts. If the product is refined, the proteins will normally have been eliminated. Cold-pressed oils can however contain residual proteins.

Labelling of foodstuffs:

All nuts and peanuts must always be clearly marked with the name of the nut in the ingredients list when they are part of a recipe for a product. This declaration obligation also applies to non-packaged food, i.e. foodstuffs that are sold without packaging in shops, restaurants, cafés etc.

Some foodstuffs are in addition labelled with ”may contain traces of nuts”. This does not mean that nuts have been added to the foodstuff, but rather that during manufacture, residual amounts of nuts may have been included in the product. Most persons with nut allergies tolerate a trace amount of nuts and can eat products labelled with ”may contain trace of nuts”. Individuals must consult their doctor to clarify whether their allergy is so serious that they must avoid even trace amounts.