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Most People Can't Tell a Tree Nut From a Peanut

Knowing which nuts to avoid can be a matter of life-or-death for those with nut allergies, study says

SATURDAY, March 31, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Many people with peanut or tree nut allergies, and parents of children with such allergies, can't identify potentially dangerous types of nuts just by looking at them, a new study finds.

The study included 649 adults and 456 children who were asked to identify each of 19 nuts in a display box. The nuts were both in and out of the shell, and some were chopped, sliced or diced, similar to how they appear on grocery store shelves.

Along with peanuts, the study included cashews, Brazil nuts, pistachios, almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and pine nuts.

Overall, the participants correctly identified an average of about eight of the 19 nuts (44 percent). Adults averaged 11 correct answers, compared to just less than five for children. People aged 51 and older did the best, with an average of 13 correct answers.

Only 21 participants (2 percent) correctly identified all 19 types of nuts.

The 27 people who reported they had a peanut or tree nut allergy did no better than those without the allergies. Parents of children with peanut or tree nut allergies did no better than parents of children without the allergies.

The study was published in a recent issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

About 1.2 to 1.4 percent of Americans are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, which are the leading cause of death from food-triggered allergic reactions.

Avoiding eating nuts is the main way to manage this type of allergy. These findings suggest that educating patients about the appearance of all types of nuts is an important follow-up to the diagnosis of any kind of nut allergy, the study authors said.

"When we ask patients to avoid peanuts and tree nuts, we shouldn't assume patients know what they're looking for, because they may not," lead author Todd Hostetler, an assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at Ohio State University in Columbus, said in a university news release. "It's worthwhile to do some education about what a tree nut is, what a peanut is, and what they all look like."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about food allergies.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, March 15, 2012
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