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Can I Eat Coconuts if I am Allergic to Nuts?

By Diane Marks

Coconut is not a nut; it’s a part of the palm tree family, but according to recent studies performed by the FDA, people with tree nut allergies may have an allergic reaction to products that contain coconuts. Allergic reactions to nuts are caused by the proteins found in specific tree nuts. Although the reasons why are not fully understood, coconuts do not contain the same proteins but can cause a similar allergic reaction. If you have a nut allergy, talk with your doctor before consuming coconuts.

Nut Allergy

A nut allergy is one of the most common food allergies that can cause severe reactions. A nut allergy is a general term that typically includes allergies to peanuts. Peanuts are not a nut, but are rather a legume. The proteins found in peanuts are similar enough to tree nut proteins that they are commonly grouped together. Tree nuts include hazelnuts, cashew, pistachio, Brazil nuts, almonds and walnuts, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

Cause

A nut allergy is caused by a hypersensitivity to the proteins found in tree nuts. When you eat a tree nut that you’re allergic to, your immune system experiences an exaggerated reaction. The immune system malfunctions and mistakes the proteins for a harmful substance, which causes the body to defend itself by creating antibodies, histamine and other chemicals. This chemical reaction leads to various symptoms, such as asthma, skin reactions, swelling in the face, throat or lips and digestive complications. Histamine is the primary chemical that causes most nut allergy symptoms because the introduction of histamine causes soft tissue to become inflamed.

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Avoidance

Until you’re clinically diagnosed with a nut or coconut allergy you need to avoid all foods that contain tree nuts, peanuts or coconut. All foods that contain tree nuts or peanuts are required by law to disclose the use of nuts. Even if the manufacturer uses shared equipment with nuts and peanuts, an allergy warning is required. Coconut is not required by law to be included in the allergy warning. Read the ingredients of all foods and beverages before you consume them to avoid coconut. Coconut is commonly found in ethnic foods, desserts and some alcoholic beverages.

Warning

If you develop a severe allergic reaction after ingesting coconut or tree nuts, call 911 immediately. Severe allergic reactions can lead to death. Common signs and symptoms to look out for include facial swelling, hives, shortness of breath, a rapid heart beat and a sudden drop in blood pressure.

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