Can You Develop a Seed Allergy?
Many people who are allergic to tree nuts wonder if they can safely consume sunflower, pumpkin, sesame or poppy seeds on a nut-free diet. In fact, these seeds have nothing to do with tree nuts, as they come from plant families, totally different from nut-producing trees. This means that the seeds themselves (unless contaminated) do not contain any allergens associated with tree nuts.
Seeds are quite nutritive and many of them have a taste somewhat similar to that of nuts. People avoiding peanuts and tree nuts often replace them with some of these seeds in cooking.
However, while seeds are not dangerous for nut-allergic people, allergies to seeds themselves have been on the rise recently. Seed allergy can trigger severe reaction, including anaphylaxis.
Seeds as a Rare Kind of Food Allergens
An allergy to seeds may actually develop in some people with tree nut allergies. Not all kinds of seeds are likely to induce allergies, but some of them do cause problems. According to statistics, estimated 0.1 percent of the global population is allergic to seeds.
One of the most commonly occurring seed allergies is an allergy to sesame seed. It is more associated with countries where foods containing sesame are highly consumed, for example, Israel or Australia. Moreover, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency includes sesame into the group of ten major allergens.
Speaking of the United States, sesame allergy is less common than other food allergies – only 0,001 percent of Americans have a sesame allergy. However, in people affected by this allergic disorder, exposure to sesame may cause severe, even life-threatening reactions (anaphylaxis).
If you are wondering whether eating sesame seeds is safe for you, it is better to consult with your allergist.
Some people can develop severe allergies to poppy seeds, especially those with allergies to pollen and tree nuts (such as hazelnut). Although there is no confirmed information about how many people are affected by poppy seeds allergies, these are rather considered to be rare.
Sunflower seeds may also induce allergies. There even have been a number of people who reported developing anaphylactic reaction to these seeds. Yet, sunflower seeds allergy remains rare, compared to other food allergies.
You may also have an allergy to pumpkin seeds, but the likelihood of developing it is extremely low.
Contaminated Seeds as Allergy Triggers
Allergic reactions to seeds reported throughout the last 80 years have been analyzed in a study recently. According to the findings, some of those reactions were not caused by the seed itself.
In various cases, the seeds were actually contaminated by allergy-causing mold and pollen. Thus, inhaling mold while eating the seeds triggered reactions in some people. Pollen contained in some sunflower seeds caused reaction in those with pollen allergy.
In addition, since cross-contamination is a common phenomenon in processing, people allergic to tree nuts or peanuts may also develop reactions after eating the seeds.
If a manufacturer produces nut butters, peanut butter, as well as sunflower seed butter, the latter is very likely to be dangerous for anyone who has a severe allergy to tree nuts or peanuts. Therefore, you should always check the product labels or contact the company to make sure the product is not contaminated with allergens.
The Bottom Line
Although seed allergies are still quite rare, the research shows that reactions to the seeds are becoming more common, especially reactions to sesame seeds. One of the factors affecting this increase in seed allergies lies in the fact that the seeds are more and more commonly used in cuisines all over the world
While further research is still needed, experts recommend that people with a history of food or other allergies check with the doctor before eating seeds, seed oils or seed butters. Besides, you should keep in mind that reactions caused by seeds tend to be quite severe.