Do you Know Your Nuts?

Misindentified nuts can be dangerous for allergy sufferers

March 20, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Think you know your nuts? Think again. Many people with nut allergies were not able to tell the difference between a tree nut and a peanut.

In a new study, most children and adults were unable to identify more than half of 18 nut samples. Tree nuts and peanuts were presented in ways one would normally see them in a supermarket including shelled and un-shelled, diced, sliced and chopped. Better education to help identify the various forms of nuts are needed after a nut allergy diagnosis.

"Learn to identify different tree nuts...you could save a life!"

The study was led by Todd Hostetler, M.D.,assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at Ohio State University, and involved 1,105 individuals. The participants, 649 adults and 456 children, were asked to fill out a questionnaire about any nut allergy history and demographic information and visually identify a peanut and nine tree nuts in 19 different forms. The participants managed to identify 8.4 out of 19 nuts on average, with adults fairing better than children.

According to the study, peanuts were the most correctly identified nut due in part to the familiar shell. Close to 95 percent of the participants identify a shelled peanut and around 80 percent identified an un-shelled peanut. For tree nuts, the un-shelled cashew was the most easily identified while shelled hazelnuts were the least identified. Only 21 individuals correctly identified all 19 nuts.

Out of the 27 participants who were allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, there was no significant difference in the amount of correctly identified nuts. Parents of children with a nut allergy were not significantly better at identifying the nuts when compared to parents of children who did not have a nut allergy.

Identifying nuts is crucial for any individual with a nut allergy. Peanut or tree nut allergies affect nearly three million Americans, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Peanuts are the leading cause of food allergy-related deaths in America and the severity of the reaction to exposure to nuts makes it important for allergy sufferers to be able to identify the nuts they are allergic to.

While peanut and tree nut allergies may be on the rise, it is not the most common food allergy. Six and a half million Americans are allergic to seafood. Despite these large numbers, only 150 to 200 deaths per year are related to all food allergies.

In order to prevent a serious reaction, such as anaphylaxis, most doctors and allergists recommend staying away from any type of nut that they are allergic to, notes Dr. Hostetler. That's easier said than done, according to the study.

Considering nuts may not be labeled or presented in many forms, visual identification is key to avoiding any nut one may be allergic to. Better education after allergy diagnosis should be a part of the normal routine for doctors and allergists. 

No funding information was reported. 

This study was published in the January edition of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 19, 2012
Last Updated:
March 20, 2012