Don’t Go Nuts! Surviving The Holiday Season With A Nut Allergy
From cheese logs to pecan pie, fruit cake to Waldorf salad, mince pie to peanut brittle, foods containing nuts are everywhere during the holidays. Getting through festive gatherings and family dinners this time of year is a challenge for parents of children with nut allergy.
Be Merry and Nut-Free
Peanut allergy is the most common food allergy and according to a study funded by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) the number of children in the U.S. with peanut allergy more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. Studies conducted in the United Kingdom and Canada also showed a high incidence of peanut allergy in schoolchildren.
Tree nut allergy has also become more common and includes, but is not limited to problems with, walnut, almond, hazelnut, cashew, pistachio and Brazil nuts. Some nuts, such as cashew and pistachio are related to each other and people with allergy to one are usually allergic to the other. These are not to be confused with peanut, which is really not a nut, but a legume. An allergy to both peanuts and tree nuts commonly lasts a lifetime; however, recent studies have shown that approximately 9 percent of children with a tree nut allergy and 20% of peanut allergic children eventually outgrow their allergy. It may, however, take 15 years or longer before the allergy is outgrown.
Peanuts are legumes and not the same as tree nuts. They grow underground and are part of the legume family that includes beans, peas, lentils and soybeans. It is unusual for children allergic to peanuts to be allergic to another legume (including soy).
Some of the highest-risk foods for people with peanut or tree nut allergy are accessible year round, but, because they are often part of holiday treats, the risks of accidental exposure may be greater. Some of these high-risk foods include:
- Cookies and baked goods – Even if baked goods don’t contain nut ingredients, it is possible that they came in contact with peanut or tree nuts through cross-contamination. Sometimes, low cost peanuts may be added to a tree nut containing food as filler. Unless you know exactly what went into a food and where it was made, it’s safest to avoid them, homemade or otherwise.
- Candy – Candies made by small bakeries or manufacturers (or homemade candies) may contain nuts as a hidden ingredient. The safest plan is to eat only candies made by major manufacturers whose labels show they are safe or those made by friends and family who know exactly what ingredients were used.
- Ice cream – Unfortunately, cross-contamination is common in ice cream parlors because of shared scoops. It’s also a possibility in soft-serve ice cream, custard, or yogurt places because the same dispensing machine is often used for lots of different flavors. Instead, do as you would for candy: Buy tubs of ice cream made by a large manufacturer at the supermarket and read the labels to be sure they’re safe. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to have a family member who makes nut-free, homemade ice cream during the holidays, well … lucky you!