Nutmeg is used to season dishes. It’s available to buy in the ground or whole form. Nutmeg is used in baked goods, entrees, desserts, and certain cuisines, such as Moroccan and Indian foods. It’s also sometimes used in beverages, such as cider.
Despite the name, nutmeg isn’t a nut. It’s really a seed. If you have a nut allergy, you may be able to eat nutmeg without any risk for an allergic reaction. However, if you have a seed allergy, you may need to avoid nutmeg.
Seed vs. Nut Allergies: What’s the Difference?
Together, peanut and tree nut allergies affect 3 million Americans. They’re most common in children, but adults can also develop these allergies. Seed allergies are much more rare. Researchers do not know exactly how many Americans have a seed allergy. The most common seed allergy is a sesame seed allergy.
A food allergy is an allergy to a protein present in a particular food. You may be allergic to more than one type of food protein. In that case, you would be allergic to multiple foods. It’s not uncommon for a person to be allergic to several foods in the same category. These categories might include:
Fortunately, if you have been diagnosed with a nut allergy, you don’t have to avoid seeds, such as nutmeg. The same is also true if you have been diagnosed with an allergy to seeds but not to nuts.
Common Seed, Nut, and Legume Allergies
Knowing the difference between seeds, legumes, and tree nuts can help you steer clear of potential allergens. Unfortunately, that distinction is sometimes hard to keep clear because the foods are easily mistaken. Here are some of the most common allergens in each group:
- nutmegs, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and wheat germs
- peanuts, peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy beans, black beans, fava beans, lima beans, and red kidney beans
- tree nuts
- almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, and pine nuts
Symptoms of a Seed Allergy
The symptoms of a seed allergy depend on the severity of the allergy. Some people with a seed allergy may have a severe reaction, such as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening reaction that often occurs within just minutes of exposure to an allergen. People experiencing anaphylaxis may have the following symptoms:
- difficulty breathing
- reduced blood pressure
- weak pulse
- loss of consciousness
A less severe reaction is also possible. Other symptoms of a seed allergy can include:
- difficulty breathing or wheezing
- chest tightness
- a rash or other skin symptom
- swollen lips or tongue
- nasal congestion
- gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, cramping, or vomiting
- reduced blood pressure
- weakness or fainting
What to Do If You Have a Seed Allergy
Exposure to an allergen can be irritating, painful, or even deadly. Reducing your likelihood of exposure reduces your risk for a reaction. If you have a seed allergy, you must be vigilant to look for seeds in foods, oils, and beauty products. Strict avoidance is the best policy.
When you’re grocery shopping, read labels carefully. Look for seed oils and extracts in the ingredients list. Research alternative names for the seeds you’re allergic to, and search labels for all name variations.
When you’re dining out, talk with your server or the restaurant’s cook. Whole seeds are easy to spot, but seed extracts and ground seeds may be harder to detect. You must rely on the restaurant’s staff to prepare food that is safe for you to eat. If you have a severe allergy, be sure to always carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) with you in the event you accidentally eat a food that contains some of the allergen.
Treatment for a Seed Allergy
Food allergies, including seed allergies, do not have a cure. Instead of trying to cure a food allergy, your doctor will encourage you to focus on avoiding a possible allergic reaction.
If you have an allergic reaction to seeds, you may need treatment. The type of treatment you receive will depend on the severity of the reaction. An anaphylaxis response requires immediate medical treatment with epinephrine. A less severe reaction may require treatment with antihistamines, steroids, or asthma medications.
If you have a history of allergic reactions, your doctor may suggest you carry medication with you at all times. If you have had an anaphylactic response in the past, your doctor may also request that you wear an emergency medical bracelet. The bracelet will help emergency responders know how to treat you if you are unable to give yourself an epinephrine injection or lose consciousness.
Speak with Your Doctor
If you have a severe seed allergy, you’ll likely know very quickly after eating a seed. An anaphylaxis reaction often occurs within minutes. A less severe reaction, however, may take hours or days to develop. Your symptoms may not be as obvious as some other allergic reactions.
In that case, the best way to know if your symptoms are the result of a seed allergy is to be tested. An allergist is a specialist who can test and diagnose you if you are indeed allergic to a food. Your doctor may order both a skin test and a blood test. They may also want to do a food challenge in their office to further identify your reaction to a particular allergen.
To have an allergy test, talk with your doctor. If you have never been to an allergist, your general practitioner will be able to recommend one to you. Make an appointment with the specialist and discuss the symptoms you have experienced. Together, the two of you can decide what tests, if any, may be right for you.