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Life with Nut Allergies: An Insider's Perspective

Updated on December 31, 2011

Going Nutty

I grew up in many respects a vintage nerd. And by vintage I mean I had some of the core stereotypical attributes of being a nerd: lack of athleticism, socially awkward, full of crazy information, and enormously picky. I was particularly picky about my food and what I ate. For instance, I liked some of my foods hot to a certain extent and others cool to a certain extent. I didn't eat some foods just because the looked or smelled bad so I as a result my palette didn't develop until I was in college.

The summer after my freshman year of college I went on a mission trip to a Florida farm with the church group I was a part of. We were told to eat what was in front of us and I was pretty successful in doing so. Except on my first day working on the farm, I had a brownie and I felt sick. Initially I attributed it to a combination of the Florida humidity and jet lag from the night before. But then my face felt swollen like Will Smith in Hitch and my throat began to close.

I ran to the bathroom and soon discovered I was reacting to the nuts that were in the brownie and had to be rushed to the hospital. Fortunately, I got the care I needed and decidedly found out that I was allergic to any and all nuts (tree nuts and peanuts). It was confirmed a few weeks later when I was home and my allergy doctor tested me. As soon as I felt the specimen hit my back, I got that old feeling again.

That feeling was not as loving as the Righteous Brothers might say it is, but it was actually a systemic reaction. Essentially meaning my whole body went into a zone defense before going into anaphylactic shock which is the real beast of an allergy attack. Thankfully my doctor sprung into action and I learned the ugly truth.

Nuts are now on the long list of things I'm allergic too. But unlike dust which I can be exposed to and not feel bad in a couple of minutes, it has an instant affect on my body. Even when someone's eating peanut butter, I have to leave the area because the smell is so nauseating. Beyond that I have to be careful about what I eat because one trace of nuts can really mess me up.

So I'd like to devote this hub to anyone who suffers from the affliction of nut allergies and their loved ones who struggle to help them survive day to day.

Here a Nut, There a Nut

I'm sure you're wondering how I avoided nuts for the first nineteen and a half years of my life. Easy, I was a picky nerd. For one reason or another I didn't let my mom put peanut butter on my jelly sandwich in elementary school. And when she made me taste a peanut, it felt funny. My tongue got a strange tingly sensation. She wrote it off as me being persnickety but it helped me avoid a tragedy.

However, once I found out I had nut allergies, avoid nuts was harder than anticipated. For instance the following summer I went to engage in the national collegiate pastime of scoring free food. And it wasn't like the food was what you'd think of as being hazardous to someone with nut allergies. It was hamburgers, hot dogs, and the like. However, the restaurant providing the goods wasn't familiar with southern cuisine and for one dumb reason or another put pecans in cole slaw. No, I really meant to say cole slaw. So instead of enjoying free food I went to the campus hospital and spent four hours and hundreds of dollars paying for my mistake to only enjoy some residual McD's later.

The moral of the story is that you can't be too careful about what you eat or put near your person if you have nut allergies so I will provide some tips about what you should do to make life with allergies alot less nutty.

Nut Awareness

We all know what nuts look like for the most part, but unfortunately it's not that simple in telling what has nuts and what doesn't have nuts. So I'm going to compile a few simple tips for surviving life in the nut house.

  1. Read Every Menu Thoroughly and Ask the Server Questions - Unlike the one person you know who always asks for salad dressing on the side, you have a real reason to be cautious about what's on the menu. Don't be afraid to say I have nut allergies and I need to know what's in the sauce. I've been online and seen that some places like Ruby Tuesday offer a menu for those with specific allergies and sensitivities like nuts and soy.
  2. You a Legitimate Excuse to Ditch the Food at the Office Party or Any Questionable Food Gift- I actually consider this a side benefit of having nut allergies. While we all want to be good co-workers, the truth is some people can't cook certain dishes without nuts. So it's okay to tell your boss that you can't eat her brownie surprise at the office Christmas party :). The same goes for the nut goodies your cousin makes every year.
  3. Read the Labels/Wrappers to Whatever You Want to Eat- For instance, I loved M&Ms and Honey Nut Cheerios growing up but after reading the fine print of: "This product is manufactured on the same equipment as tree nuts and peanuts and may contain them." So it's better to keep the memory alive than eat it and someone keep my memory alive.
  4. Not Everything that Says Nut is a Nut- This primarily applies to water chestnuts and coconuts. My experience with water chestnuts is almost exclusive to Chinese food. And while they aren't nuts, I didn't like how they made me feel so I avoid them. Coconuts are actually fruit that grow on trees and they are technically nuts but more generally considered fruit. My experience with them has been all-positive pre and post-nut diagnosis.
  5. Contact Your Allergist/General Practitioner for Medicines- If you have nut allergies or suspect you have them you should find an allergist for help with avoiding foods and cuisines with nuts as well as medicine (i.e. EpiPen) in case you accidentally come into contact with them. They will probably tell you to
  6. Alert Your Cafeteria/Dining Hall About Allergies- This applies to anyone who eats at school or work and eats in a dining hall type atmosphere. If you are a parent of a younger child, you might want to make sure your child's school nurse and the head cafeteria liaison knows their condition. And if you are older, you probably want to do the same.
  7. Demonstrate an Emergency Scenario to Friends/Family- This especially applies if you need an EpiPen and are unable to use it should you touch a nut but this is also important if you can't get to the Benadryl in time or may even need to call 911.
  8. Be Careful Cooking/Preparing Food- If you are like me and enjoy cooking make sure all the utensils that may have been used for nuts previously are thoroughly sanitized or if you want to be extra careful get your own set of utensils and label them for your exclusive use.
  9. Stay Away From Folks Eating Nuts- If you're like me and have a systemic reaction to nuts, you might just get sick smelling peanut butter or cashews. So you might want to stay away from making close contact with people who just ate a PB&J sandwich, pistachios etc.
  10. The Samples Section isn't Your Friend Anymore- I spent a summer as a sample jockey (no that's not the official name of it, I was just being facetious) and saw firsthand what goes on. While they try to keep the area clean, it's hard to know what has been in contact with nuts or not. You can ask but it's best to be on the safe side and eat foods you know don't contain nuts. The same applies for any free food event you attend (take note college freshmen).

I know this sounds like a bit much but like I said you don't want to learn the hard way like I did. Ask first and eat later. When in doubt, don't eat it!

Foods that Drive You Nuts

Some foods I've had to give up before I really got acquainted with them and then there were others I never really liked. So I'm devoting this part of the hub to the foods/cuisines that use alot of nuts.

Foods That Feature Nuts:

  1. Chocolate Candies- Ferrero Rocher, Lindt, and the list goes on. But for us with nut problems we can only dream about their delicious goodness. While some of the may have that phrase we all loathe to see about being manufactured on equipment with nuts, it's better to be safe than sorry.
  2. Candy Bars/M&Ms- I only really liked Milky Ways as a kid and the tragically ill-fated Crispy M&Ms so this one isn't hard for me to accept. But if you tend to grab a Mars bar on the way out of the supermarket, you're going to have to think again.
  3. Pesto Sauce- I didn't discover this until another unfortunate incident my junior year of college at the dining hall. But in my defense, they didn't post a sign alerting me they contain pine nuts. Yet my mistake is a lesson learned. If it says pesto sauce, don't eat it.
  4. Granola- Again, I can't say I'm torn up about this but for you health nuts it will present a problem.
  5. Trail Mix- Unless you make it yourself, it's best not to experiment with this either.
  6. Brownies- I'm not crazy about them but ironically enough that's what made me discover I had nut allergies in the first place.
  7. Peanut Butter- Um, duh!
  8. Pecan Pie- See above.
  9. Cracker Jack- I think you get the picture.
  10. Cereal- This usually applies to the kind of cereal your granddad likes but there are several kids' cereals manufactured in the same place as nut products.

While this isn't the definitive list, you get the general idea. Now I'll go on to cuisines that feature nuts.

  1. Thai Food- Between the noodles and spices, you probably want to get lost in this Asian cuisine, but if you do be sure to examine the menu very closely if dining out.
  2. Indian Food- It's spicy but it's also risky. If you make it yourself, you're probably better off.
  3. Filipino Food- It's not as prominent as in Thai or Indian food, but best to check.
  4. Chinese Food- For the most part you're okay but some regional Chinese foods feature it heavily.

That's all for now. The main thing to keep in mind is that you aren't alone in this. Everyone has something they have to be vigilant about in their health. It's all about your attitude and being intelligent about food choices. I hope this helps and I look forward to your comments and insights.

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    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      I can't imagine having a nut allergy. They are almost inescapable. I feel for those who have these allergies. I remember the debate a year or so ago when people complained about airlines trying to stop serving nuts. When you think about the dangers that can occur in a plane, it would be the sensible thing to do. Great article!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image
      Author

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Tammy for stopping by! I just have to go out with kid gloves when I eat at different places. I think they should remove nuts from the plane but also just so they can stop being cheap about giving us actual meals. Gee whiz!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I am so glad I don't have nut allergies. I can't imagine live without nuts, even human nuts! :) When Faith was in Pre-K her school didn't allow any and I mean any product that contained a nut product into their school, it didn't matter if a child had allergies or not. A bit overprotective, but it's better to be safe then sorry. Excellent hub Alecia.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image
      Author

      Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Sunshine! If you don't have nut allergies it's hard to understand why a school would do that but everything these days is a liability and they have to protect the bottom line. But yeah trying to remember what I should eat is daunting but I usually just trust my gut on things like that.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

      Ah.....an Alecia Murphy hub that I had not yet read. Luckily I do not have a nut allegory....but I got to understand the importance of people that do have the allegory with all my years in the grocery business. When I first started nutrition labels were not required on all products....so you can image the issues we had back then. Lots of great tips and advice....sorry you have to wear kid gloves when it comes to food.....liked the video and enjoyed the hub...voted up and across the board.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image
      Author

      Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Cogerson! It is amazing how many people have nut allergies and how much has changed in the past 15-20 years in terms of dealing with it.

    • productreviewme profile image

      productreviewme 2 years ago from New York, NY

      Do you have issues with hair and body products as well? I have nut allergies and have cured at least one of them. I've written hubs on them and products I currently use.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image
      Author

      Alecia Murphy 2 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Productreviewme,

      I do. I had to take back a body wash back in June because it has walnut shells. Now I know I have to read every label. Thanks for commenting!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      I would think this is a tough allergy! Nuts seem to be everywhere!

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I am grieved to have discovered lately that i have developed a nut allergy (I'm 58). It started with almonds about 22 years ago. It just tore my stomach up something awful. I likened it to my stomach being shredded with glass. That was pretty much it until this past year when I decided to buy some soy nuts to snack on. I got very nauseous. I started buying dry roasted unsalted cashews at Costco which I so dearly love. Those made me nauseous after a time. Then I bought some Hoodys peanuts in the shell. When I got sick I thought they were probably rancid from sitting in the store so long. Then I made a peanut butter sandwich and got sick. As you can see, I have a denial problem. I am very grateful my throat doesn't swell, but just digestive symptoms. I can still have like candy bars or deserts with a few walnuts or peanuts (never almonds) without any distress, but who knows for how long.

      I can't remember if you mentioned it, but many products are made in factories that make other products with nuts, sometimes with the same machinery. If this is so, it is supposed to be on labels "Made in factory with nuts" or something to that effect. Who knows how diligent they are. Thanks for sharing.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image
      Author

      Alecia Murphy 2 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks for commenting, Audrey!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image
      Author

      Alecia Murphy 2 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thank you for coming by and commenting, lambservant!

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