Can You Eat Seeds if You're Allergic to Tree Nuts?

sunflower, poppy, pumpkin, and sesame seeds

Verywell / Zorica Lakonic

Can you eat seeds when you're following a tree nut-free diet? Many people with nut allergies wonder if they can enjoy sunflower, poppy, pumpkin, and sesame seeds.

Some of these seeds are commonly used in cooking as substitutes for tree nuts and peanuts by people following a nut-free diet. Not only do they provide nutritional value, but the seeds are also similar in taste.

These seeds come from plant families that are not closely related to nut-producing trees. That means they may not have the same allergenic proteins that tree nuts have.

However, seed allergies can happen. It's also possible to be allergic to nuts and seeds. As with other allergies, people can have serious reactions to seeds.

This article will go over what you need to know about including seeds in your diet if you have a tree nut allergy. However, your provider or allergist is the best source for advice on whether seeds can be part of your diet, especially if you have other food allergies.

Seed Allergies Are Rare

While it is not common, you can be allergic to both tree nuts and seeds. There are different kinds of seeds that you can be allergic to. Some are more likely to cause allergic reactions than others.

Sesame Seeds

It's estimated that only 0.1% of the global population has a sesame seed allergy. It might not be common, but a sesame allergy can still be serious. Some people may have a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

Sesame seeds are considered one of the 10 major allergens by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In the United States, sesame allergy affects around one in every 1,000 people.

Sesame seeds are becoming a common allergy in countries where a lot of people eat sesame-containing foods. For example, sesame seed allergies are popping up in Israel and Australia where tahini paste is popular.

Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds can cause severe allergic reactions. Your risk is higher if you are allergic to tree nuts (especially hazelnuts) or pollen.

There are no sure estimates of how many people are allergic to poppy seeds. However, it's thought to be rarer than a sesame seed allergy.

Sunflower Seeds

There have been few reports of an allergy to sunflower seeds, but that doesn't mean they don't have the potential to be severe. Some reports have included anaphylactic reactions. Overall, sunflower seed allergy appears to be rare.

Pumpkin Seeds

It's possible to be allergic to pumpkin seeds, but it's extremely rare.

Recap

Overall, seed allergies are rare. Allergies to certain seeds are more common in some parts of the world where people eat a lot of them.

Pollen on Seeds

A study that looked at allergic reactions to seeds reported from 1930 through 2016 found that some reactions people had were not actually from the seeds themselves.

In a handful of cases, allergists figured out that it was the mold or pollen on the seeds that had caused an allergic reaction. For example, some people breathed in mold from contaminated seeds.

The researchers also found that some sunflower seeds contained pollen from the flower, which could have triggered an allergic response.

Recap

Even if you are not allergic to seeds, they can still have allergens on them that could cause a reaction. For example, people allergic to pollen or mold can have a reaction to seeds if these substances are on them.

Cross-Contamination

Even if you are not allergic to seeds, they may have been exposed to allergens that would cause you to have a reaction. That's why it's important to be aware of what's called cross-contamination in processing.

For example, some companies that make sunflower seed butter also make nut butter or peanut butter. Even though the sunflower seed butter does not contain nuts, it could have come into contact with nuts while it was being made.

If you have a severe tree nut or peanut allergy, seed-based products made in facilities that also make nut products are not a safe choice.

If you are not sure if a product is safe for you, contact the company that makes it. Ask them if any nut products are made in the same facility or with the same equipment.

Recap

If you are looking for nut-free products, remember that cross-contamination in processing can happen. Sometimes, products like sunflower seed butter that don't have nuts in them were made in the same facility as nut products like peanut butter.

Summary

Many people who are allergic to tree nuts enjoy seeds as an alternative. Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and poppy seeds can add nutrition and variety to a nut-free diet.

However, it's possible to be allergic to tree nuts and seeds. While seed allergies are rare, they do happen. As with other allergies, they can also be serious.

A Word From Verywell

While they are not very common, reports of seed allergies are rising. Sesame seed allergies are becoming more common.

One reason we might be seeing more cases of seed allergies is that seeds and seed products (like oils) are popular ingredients in dishes around the world. As more people are enjoying seeds and including them in their diets, we'll probably see more reported cases of allergies.

More research is needed to understand seed allergies on a global scale, but you can talk to your provider about what's best for you. If you have other allergies—even non-food allergies—ask them if seeds are a safe choice for you.

When you're shopping for nut-free products, don't hesitate to reach out to a company and ask how their products are made to ensure there's no cross-contamination.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Adatia A, Clarke AE, Yanishevsky Y, Ben-shoshan M. Sesame allergy: Current perspectives. J Asthma Allergy. 2017;10:141-151. doi:10.2147/JAA.S113612

  2. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Before you shop: Food allergies and allergen labelling.

  3. Patel A, Bahna SL. Hypersensitivities to sesame and other common edible seeds. Allergy. 2016;71(10):1405-13. doi:10.1111/all.12962

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