Even doctors, dietitians and people with nut allergies have trouble naming the usual suspects
By Natasha Persaud
It’s crucial to spot nuts in foods if you or your child has a peanut or tree nut allergy. Accidentally eating an offending nut can lead to anaphylaxis—a severe allergic reaction that is life-threatening. But a study reveals that when it comes to identifying nuts, many of us are missing the mark in a big way!
For the study, more than 1,000 people were asked to identify 19 different varieties of nuts (including in whole, shelled, chopped, slivered or crushed form).
Kids ages 6 and older correctly identified just 5 of these nut samples on average. Adults fared better with 11 correct responses, but their error rate was still high, failing to name the right nut in 8 instances.
You might think that adults and children with nut allergies—who live day to day with the specter of a bad reaction—would fare better on the visual test. Surprisingly, no: Just 50 percent of allergic individuals correctly identified all forms of peanuts or tree nuts to which they are allergic. Parents of allergic children performed no better than other parents with just three-quarters of them identifying the specific nuts to which their children would react. Even doctors, nurses and dietitians garnered less than stellar results on the test.
Participants identified whole forms of some nuts more readily, including peanuts, almonds and pecans. When any nut was chopped, crushed or slivered—as it might be in cereals, trail mix, yogurt, Asian dishes, and dessert toppings—test takers had a harder time. In the real world, reading food labels is helpful for spotting nuts as an ingredient (intentional or accidental) but it is inadequate.
Of the 19 nut forms below, the nut that tripped up participants the most was Hazelnuts, with or without the shell.
- Cashew, without shell
- Hazelnut (filbert), in shell
- Pistachio, without shell
- Brazil nut, without shell
- Almond, slivered
- Pecan, in shell
- Walnut, crushed
- Peanut, without shell
- Pecan, crushed
- Pine nut (Pignolia), without shell
- Almond, without shell
- Peanut, in shell
- Macadamia nut, without shell
- Pistachio, in shell
- Brazil nut, in shell
- Pecan, without shell
- Walnut, in shell
- Hazelnut (filbert), without shell
- Walnut, without shell
The lesson: If you or your child has a nut allergy, make sure you and everyone who cares for your youngster can identify the troublesome nut in all its forms (the list above includes some common forms). Child care workers include babysitters, teachers at school, coaches, Sunday school instructors, camp counselors, scout leaders and others who spend time with your child. Your best defense is becoming better informed!
Hostetler, T. et al. The ability of adults and children to visually identify peanuts and tree nuts. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Volume 108, Issue 1, Pages 25-29, January 2012.