Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. Peanuts are not the same as tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.), which grow on trees. Peanuts grow underground and are part of a different plant family, the legumes. Other examples of legumes include beans, peas, lentils and soybeans.
Peanuts can cause a severe, potentially fatal, allergic reaction .Recently the incidence of peanut allergies in India is rising. But since peanut is such a commonly used nut in the Asian cuisine, it becomes difficult to label and inform consumers appropriately regarding its presence.
.Allergy to peanuts appears to be on the rise in children. This can be attributed to decreasing prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding leading to lowered immunity.
Peanut allergies tend to be lifelong, although studies indicate that approximately 20 percent of children with peanut allergy do eventually outgrow their allergy. Younger siblings of children allergic to peanuts may be at increased risk for allergy to peanuts.
What can trigger allergic symptoms?
Trace amounts of peanut can cause an allergic reaction. Casual contact with peanuts, such as touching peanuts or peanut butter residue, is less likely to trigger a severe reaction. Casual contact becomes a concern if the area that comes into contact with peanuts then comes into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth (for example, a child with peanut allergy gets peanut butter on her fingers, and then rubs her eyes).
To prevent a reaction, strict avoidance of peanut and peanut products is essential. Always read ingredient labels to identify peanut ingredients.
Read all product labels carefully before purchasing and consuming any item. Ingredients in packaged food products may change without warning, so check ingredient statements carefully every time you shop. If you have questions, call the manufacturer.
Avoid foods that contain peanuts or any of these ingredients:
- Artificial nuts
- Cold pressed, expeller pressed or extruded peanut oil
- Ground nuts
- Mixed nuts
- Monkey nuts
- Peanut butter
- Peanut flour
- Peanut protein hydrolysate
Peanut is sometimes found in the following:
- Baked goods (e.g., pastries, cookies)
- Candy (including chocolate candy)
- Egg rolls
- Enchilada sauce
Some Unexpected Sources of Peanut
- African, Asian and Mexican dishes
- Sauces such as chili sauce, hot sauce, pesto, gravy, mole sauce and salad dressing
- Sweets such as pudding, cookies, baked goods, pies and hot chocolate
- Egg rolls
- Specialty pizzas
- Some vegetarian food products, especially those advertised as meat substitutes
- Foods that contain extruded, cold-pressed or expelled peanut oil, which may contain peanut protein
- Glazes and marinades
- Pet food
*Note: This list highlights examples of where peanuts have been unexpectedly found (e.g., on a food label for a specific product, in a restaurant meal, in creative cookery). This list does not imply that peanuts are always present in these foods; it is intended to serve as a reminder to always read the label and ask questions about ingredients before eating a food that you have not prepared yourself.
Keep the following in mind:
- Certain food service establishments are considered high-risk for individuals with peanut allergy due to the common use of peanut and the risk of cross-contact – even if you order a peanut-free item. These include African, Asian (especially Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese) and Mexican restaurants; bakeries; and ice cream shops.
- The FDA exempts highly refined peanut oil from being labeled as an allergen. Studies show that most individuals with peanut allergy can safely eat peanut oil (but not cold-pressed, expelled or extruded peanut oil – sometimes represented as gourmet oils). If you are allergic to peanuts, ask your doctor whether or not you should avoid peanut oil.
- Arachis oil is peanut oil.
- Sunflower seeds are often produced on equipment shared with peanuts.
- Some alternative nut butters, such as soy nut butter or sunflower seed butter, are produced on equipment shared with other tree nuts and, in some cases, peanuts. Contact the manufacturer before eating these products.
Indian food system is quite complex where recipes are not standardized and it is difficult to avoid contact with allergens. It is best to request the chef at the restaurant to refrain from using peanuts for your meal. In case of packaged foods it is best to read the ingredient list carefully.
Dr Pooja Chhawcharia is the Senior Nutritionist at eKincare with over 7 years of experience in Nutrition education, diet counseling and research. She is a Registered Dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association and Certified Diabetes Educator recognized by the International Diabetes federation . She is also interested in ancillary sciences such as Yoga and Naturopathy.