Distinguishing between nut allergies

Posted on: May 4, 2015

My son “G” has life-threatening food allergies. One of them being tree nuts.

Oftentimes, when I tell people about “G”‘s allergy, the response I get is, “Oh, so he can’t eat peanuts.” I then politely explain that a peanut allergy and a tree nut allergy are two completely separate allergies and that he actually can eat peanuts. The response to that is usually always the same, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” This is something I’ve come to realize in the time we’ve been dealing with “G”‘s allergies. Most people don’t understand the difference between a peanut allergy and a tree nut allergy. This can get frustrating at times because often what happens, is that all nut allergies get grouped together as a peanut allergy. For example, my son’s Preschool is completely nut free, but when they post notices about bringing a lunch for field trips they will often say, “Please provide a peanut free lunch.” I’ve seen this happen other places as well. But, again, they are two separate allergies and I feel it’s important to distinguish between them.

Peanuts are not technically a nut. They are a legume. That means they are actually in the same plant family as alfalfa, peas, beans, lentils, and soybeans. They are not actually associated with any nut.

Tree nuts, on the other hand, are actual nuts and are considered the “fruit” of certain trees. Some are considered botanical nuts and some are not. Tree nuts include hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans, cashews, chestnuts, and Brazil nuts. Most people who have a tree nut allergy are allergic to multiple tree nuts, not just one kind and therefore, must avoid all tree nuts.


Every so often I’ll get asked if “G” is also allergic to coconut. While coconut does grow on a tree, it’s a fruit and not a true nut. It’s considered a drupe. So, people who are allergic to tree nuts may eat coconut. Like peanuts, a coconut allergy is separate from a tree nut allergy.

My hope is to continue to help people understand the differences between a peanut and tree nut allergy. All food allergies are important and distinct from each other. It’s important to understand the differences between allergies in order to ensure we can help those around us with that allergy, avoid their allergen and a serious allergic reaction.

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