Can You Eat Seeds on a Tree Nut-Free Diet?

Sunflower, poppy, pumpkin and sesame should be okay for you

Sunflower Seeds
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Can you eat seeds — for example, sunflower, poppy, pumpkin and sesame seeds — when you're following a tree nut-free diet because of a nut allergy?


Yes, you can. None of these seeds are tree nuts — they come from totally different plant families, which means they're not closely related to nut-producing trees. Therefore, they don't contain any of the allergenic proteins that tree nuts contain.

In fact, some of these seeds are commonly used in cooking as substitutes for tree nuts and peanuts for people following a nut-free diet. They actually provide significant nutritional value, and they're somewhat similar in taste.

Is It Possible to be Allergic to Seeds?

It is possible to be allergic to certain seeds, in addition to being allergic to tree nuts. Some seeds are more likely to cause problems than others.

Sesame allergy is among the more common allergies in countries such as Israel and Australia where consumption of sesame-containing foods (like tahini paste, which is made from sesame seeds) is high, and it's considered one of the nine major allergens by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Your allergist is the best source for advice on whether sesame seeds are an appropriate part of a diet for a child who has been diagnosed with other food allergies.

In the U.S., sesame allergy may affect around one in every 1,000 people, making it less common than other allergies.

However, sesame allergy can be severe, and in some cases may cause anaphylaxis.

Poppy seeds also can cause potentially severe allergic reactions, possibly in people who also are allergic to tree nuts or to pollen. Poppy seed allergies are even rarer than sesame seed allergies, though, and there aren't good estimates of how many people may have them.

There have been a few reports of allergy to sunflower seeds, including anaphylactic reactions to the seeds. However, like poppy seed allergy, sunflower seed allergy does seem to be rare. Finally, it's possible to be allergic to pumpkin seeds, but it's extremely rare.

Cross-Contact with Nuts Is a Concern

Although someone who's allergic to tree nuts or peanuts should be able to eat seeds without a problem, you do need to be aware of the potential for cross-contamination with tree nuts and peanuts in processing.

For example, some companies that make sunflower seed butter and tahini also make nut butters and peanut butter, so their alternative seed-based products wouldn't be good choices for anyone with a severe tree nut or peanut allergy. Always contact the company to check on shared equipment or shared facilities.

Here's one option: SunButter Sunflower Spread is made in a dedicated tree nut-free and peanut-free facility, and it's also free of other major allergens.


Axelsson IG et al. Anaphylactic reactions to sunflower seed. Allergy. 1994 Aug;49(7):517-20.

Food Allergy Research and Education. Other Allergies fact sheet. Accessed Feb. 17, 2016.

Gangur, Venu, et al. Sesame Allergy: A Growing Food Allergy of Global Proportions? Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Jul. 2005. 95(1): 4-11(8). 4 Jan. 2008.

Hsu, Denise C. & Constance H. Katelaris. Is 'Nut-Free' Sunflower Butter Safe for Children with Peanut Allergy? Medical Journal of Australia. Nov. 5, 2007. 187(9): 542-43. 4 Jan. 2008.

Keskin O et al. Poppy seed allergy: a case report and review of the literature. Allergy and Asthma Proceedings. 2006 Jul-Aug;27(4):396-8.

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