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Peanut allergy

​What is a peanut allergy?


A peanut allergy occurs when the body reacts to the proteins in peanuts. This allergy is treated separately from other nut allergies​. While other nuts grow on trees, peanuts (like beans, peas and lentils) belong to the legume family and grow underground.

If my child has an allergy to peanuts, must they avoid all other nuts?

People who are allergic to peanuts might not have an allergy to tree nuts. However, a person can be allergic to both.

How serious is a peanut allergy?

A peanut allergy carries the risk of anaphylaxis, a severe and life threatening allergic reaction.

Some children are so sensitive to peanuts that inhaling a small amount o​f peanut protein (for example a tiny amount of shelled peanut in the air) can trigger a reaction. However, a person with a peanut allergy will not develop symptoms when exposed to the smell of peanuts, for example in peanut butter. The smell may trigger a response in a child with a peanut allergy because of their fear of peanuts, but this is not the same as physical allergic symptoms.

Will my child always have a peanut allergy?

Yes, a peanut allergy can be severe and life-long.

Other names for peanuts

Peanuts can have different names in ingredient lists. Learning these names can help you catch any hidden sources of peanuts in food.

When buying packaged foods, always check the list of ingredients in the store and again when you bring the product home. It is also a good idea to check the ingredients every time you buy the food in case the recipe has changed. You can also call the manufacturer to ask about any recipe changes.

The following table lists some names for peanuts. Use it when you are grocery shopping or calling food manufacturers.

​Arachis oil​ ​Beer nuts
Cacahouette Goober nuts, goober peas (boiled peanuts) 
​Ground nuts

Possible sources of peanuts

Peanuts are used in a range of dishes, packaged food and snacks. Below is a list of some of the many food products that contain peanuts.

​African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, for example curries, chillis, egg rolls or satays Artificial nuts (peanuts that have been alte​red to look and taste like almonds, pecans and walnuts), such as mandelona or Nu-Nuts​
​Baked goods and baking mixes ​Cereals and muesli
Chocolate and other snack foods ​​Desserts
Fried foods Hydrolyzed plant protein/vegetable protein (source may be peanut)
Nut meats, nut butter ​Peanut oil
Soup, sauces and gravy​

Reducing the risk of cross-contamination

Cross-contamination occurs when a harmless substance comes in contact with a harmful substance, for example a potential allergen or harmful bacteria. If the substances mix together, the harmful substance taints the other substance, making it unsafe to eat.

Food allergens can contaminate other foods when, for example, the same containers, utensils or frying pans hold a range of foods.

Bulk food containers pose a high risk of cross-contamination because they are often used for different products.

Be sure to avoid using utensils or containers that may have come in contact with allergy-causing foods and ask about possible cross-contamination when eating out.

How can my child get the right mix of nutrients if they must avoid peanuts?

The main nutrients in peanuts include protein, omega-3 fats, fibre, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, folate and vitamin E. Your child can still get these nutrients even if they must avoid peanuts.

Nutrients in peanuts that are found in other foods


​Where to find it

Protein​ Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, milk, beans, soy
​Omega-3 ​​Salmon, tuna, mackerel, flaxseed oil, walnuts, edamame (soy beans), radish seeds, omega-3 eggs fortified with DHA
Fibre ​​Vegetables, fruit, whole grains
​Magnesium ​​Wheat germ, peas, pumpkin, squash or sesame seeds
Phosphorus​ Wheat germ, rice bran, wheat bran, cheese, beans, sardines, tempeh
Potassium​ Bananas, papaya, sweet potato, leafy green vegetables, milk, yogurt, beans (navy, pinto, black), lentils, chickpeas, beef, pork, fish
​Folate Leafy green vegetables, beans (navy, pinto, kidney, garbanzo), lentils
Vitamin E​ Spinach, red pepper, Swiss chard, wheat germ cereal, egg, sunflower seeds

When to see a dietitian about a peanut allergy

If you have removed many foods from your child’s diet because of a peanut or tree nut allergy, it may be a good idea to speak to a registered dietitian. The dietitian can review the foods your child still eats to decide if they are getting enough nutrients. If necessary, they can also recommend alternative foods that your child can eat safely.

Key points

  • A peanut allergy can be life long and carries the risk of anaphylaxis, a severe and sometimes life-threatening allergic reaction.
  • Peanuts are treated as a separate allergen from tree nuts because they are part of the legume family.
  • Many different products contain peanuts, including baked goods, curries, egg rolls, cereals, chocolate, sauces and hydrolyzed plant or vegetable protein.
  • To prevent an allergic reaction, always read food product labels, avoid foods if you are not sure of the ingredients and avoid using utensils or containers that might have come in contact with peanuts.
  • If your child’s diet is limited because of a peanut allergy, a registered dietitian can offer advice on getting a balanced diet.
​Vy Kim, MD, FRCPC
Anna Kasprzak, RN