Nut Allergies: Spotting Problems on Food Labels

You'll be surprised by how many unexpected places nuts can hide. If you're allergic to them, food labels can be a huge help in keeping you safe.

The label of any packaged food has to show if it contains milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans. Look for the words "Contains: Nuts" or "Contains: Peanuts" on the ingredients list. But there are some other phrases to watch for, such as:

  • Artificial nuts
  • Nuts of any sort
  • Nut butters and oils
  • Peanut products, such as peanut flour, peanut starch, and peanut oil (including foods fried in it, unless the oil is purified)

Where Peanuts Hide

They can be lurking in all kinds of food products. Some common places you'll see them:

  • Processed foods like ice cream, snack foods, biscuits, baked goods, and candy
  • Ethnic food including African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine, to name a few
  • Many flavorings, thickeners, and sauces. Even artificial nuts, which are sometimes used on sundaes
  • Roasted and fried foods -- like roasted chicken -- may have peanut oil in them

Where Tree Nuts Hide

Like peanuts, tree nuts show up in all kinds of foods. Be especially careful with:

  • Sauces (like Worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, or pesto, which contains pine nuts)
  • Natural flavorings and extracts
  • Salad dressings and gravies

They may even be in non-food products like lotions (shea butter, for example) and shampoos.

How to Choose Safe Foods

Stick with packaged and labeled foods. Things that you eat from salad bars, deli counters, and bakeries are more likely to have your allergy triggers in it.

Read labels every time you buy a product. Manufacturers change ingredients all the time. Something that has been safe for you and your family may not always be

Be cautious if you see an ingredient you're not familiar with. Look it up first. Contact the manufacturer if you need more info.

Be careful when you buy a different version of your favorite food. Did you just buy a box that's bigger or smaller than usual? Or maybe picked up a low-fat or reduced-calorie version? Read the label carefully. Sometimes the ingredients are different.

Check labels on medications and toiletries. Allergy triggers can show up in drugs, cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, and lotions.

Speak up at restaurants. Let the staff, servers, managers, cooks, or chef know about your food allergy. Don't be afraid to ask how a dish is prepared. Sometimes it can be hard to tell everything that is in a dish based on how it is listed on the menu.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on May 15, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network: "Tree Nuts," "How to Read a Label for a Tree Nut-Free Diet," "Peanuts," "How to Read a Label for a Peanut-Free Diet."

Kids with Food Allergies: "Grocery Shopping for a Child with Food Allergies,"  "How to Read a Label for Peanut Allergy," "Tree Nut Allergy Avoidance List."

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