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Nutmeg is used to season dishes and is available to buy as a ground spice or in its whole form. It can be found in baked goods, entrees, and desserts. Certain cuisines, such as Moroccan and Indian cuisines, feature nutmeg in their dishes. It’s also sometimes used in beverages, like cider.
People with tree nut allergies may wonder if it’s safe for them to eat nutmeg. The answer is yes. Despite its 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 of an allergic reaction. However, if you have a seed allergy, you may need to avoid nutmeg since it’s technically from a seed. But just because you’re allergic to one type of seed doesn’t mean you’re allergic to all of them.
Researchers don’t know exactly how many Americans have a seed allergy. They do know that the most common seed allergy is a sesame seed allergy. Sesame seed allergies are so common in Canada that Canadian nutrition labels are required to declare if the product contains even traces of sesame seeds.
Understanding food allergies
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:
If you’ve been diagnosed with a nut allergy, you don’t have to avoid seeds such as nutmeg. Also, if you’ve been diagnosed with an allergy to seeds, you don’t have to avoid nuts.
Knowing the difference between seeds, legumes, and tree nuts can help you steer clear of potential allergens. That distinction is sometimes hard to keep clear because the food categories are easily mistaken for one another.
Here are some of the most common allergens in each category:
|Common seed allergens||Common legume allergens||Common tree nut allergens|
|chia seeds||black beans||almonds|
|flax seeds||fava beans||cashews|
|poppy seeds||lima beans||macadamia nuts|
|sesame seeds||peas||pine nuts|
|sunflower seeds||red kidney beans||pistachios|
|wheat germs||soy beans||walnuts|
Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening reaction that often occurs within minutes of exposure to an allergen. People experiencing anaphylaxis may have the following symptoms:
A less severe reaction is also possible. Other symptoms of a seed allergy can include:
- chest tightness
- a rash or other skin symptom
- swollen lips or tongue
- nasal congestion
- gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, cramping, or vomiting
- weakness or fainting
If you have a severe seed allergy, you’ll likely know very quickly after eating a seed. An anaphylactic 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 nutmeg allergy is to be tested. An allergist is a specialist who can test and diagnose you if you’re allergic to a food. Your primary doctor or allergist may order both a skin test and a blood test. They may also want to perform an oral food challenge in their office to further identify your reaction to a particular allergen. This involves feeding you small doses of the suspected allergen.
Exposure to an allergen can be irritating, painful, or even deadly. Reducing your likelihood of exposure reduces your risk for a reaction.
When purchasing products
If you have an allergy to nutmeg or any other seed, you must be vigilant about looking for them in foods, oils, and beauty products. Strict avoidance is the best policy.
When grocery shopping
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 dining out
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’s safe for you to eat.
If you have a severe allergy, always carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) with you in the event you accidentally eat a food that contains some of the allergen.
Food allergies, including seed and nutmeg 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 nutmeg, you may need treatment. The type of treatment you receive depends on the severity of the reaction. An anaphylactic response requires immediate medical treatment with epinephrine. A less severe reaction may require treatment with antihistamines, steroids, or asthma medications. These medications are available over-the-counter (OTC) or through a prescription with your doctor.
Common OTC antihistamines include diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec). Common corticosteroids include fluticasone propionate (Flonase) and triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort). OTC asthma medications include epinephrine, often in a nebulizer.
Make sure to speak with your doctor about the proper use of both prescription and over the counter medications to treat allergies.
- Shop for OTC antihistamines, including diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec).
- Shop for OTC corticosteroids, including fluticasone propionate (Flonase) and triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort).
- Shop for OTC asthma medications, as well as epinephrine and nebulizers.
If you have a history of allergic reactions, your doctor may suggest you carry medication with you at all times. If you’ve 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 lose consciousness or are unable to give yourself an epinephrine injection.
If you suspect you have a nutmeg or seed allergy, talk with your doctor about an allergy test. If you’ve never been to an allergist, your primary doctor will be able to recommend one to you. Make an appointment with the specialist and discuss the symptoms you’ve experienced. Together, the two of you can decide what tests, if any, may be right for you.