This week, May 9-13, is Food Allergy Awareness week 2011. We’re taking this great opportunity to shed light on the role coconut oil cooking has in the lives of people living with tree nut allergies. Tree nut allergies are becoming more prevalent in children and many families must face how to deal with such an allergen. Allergic persons may have mild reactions but more often have severe reactions requiring the use of an EpiPen or Twinject to calm the swelling mouth, itchy skin, and difficulty breathing. Some persons don’t even have to ingest the nut but can just be in the presence of a tree nut and have an outbreak.
We interviewed Collette Martin, of Learning to Eat Allergy Free, whose son has tree nut allergies. She’s shared her family’s experiences throughout the blog and hopefully they can help your family deal with tree nut and other allergies, like wheat, soy, corn, and milk.
1. How have food allergies changed your life and your son’s?
When my son was first diagnosed with multiple food allergies I went home and had no idea what to make for dinner. With allergies to wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy, I had to re-think how we ate. Baked goods were especially problematic; most are made with wheat, milk, and eggs. And in replacing milk and wheat, soy products are often used. Since that time I have been on a ten-year quest to learn, find, and share great allergen-free healthy products that we love and enjoy!
For moms and dads of an allergic child it takes a lot of preparation in order to accommodate the eating habits of their child. Until you have a child with food allergies, it’s hard to realize how many dishes are made with nuts, wheat, or eggs. But with preparation and knowledge, you can help your child eat as normally as possible and enjoy all those great childhood foods, like French fries, grilled cheese, and more!
2. Are you able to regularly go out to restaurants? If so, how do you make sure everything you are eating is safe for your son?
We do eat out — a lot! When eating locally, we have some favorite restaurants that we return to over and over again because they are willing to accommodate our needs. Accommodation needs to be more than just leaving out half of the dish; sometimes it means changing a healthy recipe — e.g. steaming vegetables instead of serving them with butter, substituting rice for pasta, or maybe changing the sauce a dish is served with.
One thing I have learned is that restaurant staff often have very little knowledge of the food they are serving. I have run into waiters that believe rice is wheat, or that don’t understand that butter is milk. When talking to the staff it’s important to be as specific as possible. For example, don’t just tell the server you have a milk allergy — also tell them you can’t have any milk, butter, margarine, cream, or sauces. The chef should be able to help, and check on ingredients.
So how do tree nut allergies relate to coconut oil? In the past there has been some confusion around whether or not coconuts are part of the tree nut family. Surely, coconuts grow on tall palm trees and even have the word ‘nut’ conspicuously in their name, but this doesn’t cement their place in among tree nuts. Coconuts are actually part of the drupe family, which is not related to nuts or peanuts at all. Drupes are characterized by a fleshy outside and hard stony shell with the seed found within that shell. The most common drupes are peaches, mangos, and coconuts. Luckily, drupes aren’t listed on the list of major food allergens according to the FDA.
Top Eight Major Food Allergens
- Tree Nuts
There continues to be discussion around coconuts, their by-products- coconut milk, coconut cream, and coconut oil, and allergies. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) explains that coconut has typically not been restricted in the diets of people with tree nut allergies. Cybele Pascal, the author of The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook, explains that coconut milk or oil can be substituted with people with tree nut allergies. “Most people with tree nut allergies are not allergic to coconut, it’s an extremely rare allergy, but still, check with your allergist before consuming it.” That’s great advice for all parents to always consult your child’s physician or allergist first.
3. Have you found cooking with coconut oil to be a good alternative to other cooking oils and butter?
Yes! I have recently started using coconut products — coconut milk, cream, and coconut oil are all fantastic products. Finding replacements for butter or shortening can be very tough — especially if you need to avoid soy as well as milk. Coconut oil is a miracle ingredient because it is a solid at room temperature, and behaves like a shortening. That makes it a perfect choice for cookies or pies, where the texture of the ingredients matters.
Continually, we see coconut products replacing those culprit foods that cause kids to have severe allergic reactions. The top benefit of using a product like coconut oil instead of soybean or corn oil, is that your dishes will taste light and maintain a similar taste profile as before. Natural coconut oil products don’t leave a candied coconut taste and make for a healthier cooking or baking alternative.
We would like to thank again, Collette, for lending her time and providing us with insight into tree nut allergies. Please visit Collette’s blog: Learning to Eat Allergy Free to learn more about allergies and safe food choices. Good luck to you and your family on your journey through food allergies. We wish you continued health and safety!