The Coconut Allergy Diet Guide

coconut with knife and fork
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Coconut comes from the coconut palm tree found in the tropics. The seed of the palm is a fruit called coconut. Many people mistakenly believe the coconut to be a tree nut (not surprisingly with the inclusion of “nut” in the word and the source coming from a tree), however, the coconut is actually a fruit.

In fact, coconut allergy is very rare with only a few reported cases in the medical literature. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) states:

“Coconut is not a botanical nut; it is classified as a fruit, even though the Food and Drug Administration recognizes coconut as a tree nut. While allergic reactions to coconut have been documented, most people who are allergic to tree nuts can safely eat coconut. If you are allergic to tree nuts, talk to your allergist before adding coconut to your diet."

Furthermore, the coconut does not appear on Europe’s list of tree nuts that must always be labeled on food packages, but in the U.S. coconut is classed as a tree nut by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for labeling purposes.

Coconut Allergy Symptoms

Although coconut allergy is rare, food allergy symptoms associated with a coconut allergy may occur after drinking or eating foods made with coconut in those who are allergic. These reactions may include:

  • Skin reactions such as rash, hives or eczema
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Airway symptoms including wheezing, coughing, or a runny nose, and
  • Swelling, also known as angioedema, of the lips, tongue, or face

Severe reactions, called anaphylaxis, may occur in coconut allergy and affect multiple organ systems. However, anaphylaxis to coconut is extremely rare.

Contact allergic dermatitis to coconut is more common than a full-blown allergic reaction. This occurs due to the presence of coconut-derived products such as coconut diethanolamide, cocamide sulphate, cocamide DEA, CDEA, which may be found in cosmetics such as shampoos, moisturizers, soaps, cleansers and hand washing liquids. An itchy blistering rash may develop a day or two after contact with the coconut allergen, and take several days to resolve. If you suspect contact dermatitis due to coconut, contact your doctor for proper testing.


Botanically, coconuts are most closely related to other palm and betel nuts. While botanical relationships are not the only factors that determine whether two foods will be cross-reactive, foods that are close biological relatives often share related allergenic proteins. For example, cashews and pistachios are two closely related plants that contain similar proteins. People who are allergic to one of these nuts are often allergic to the other one as well. When it comes to coconut, there is some evidence of cross-reactivity between coconuts and hazelnuts, and coconuts and walnuts.

However, the botanical distance between coconuts and tree nuts would suggest that most people with tree nut allergy may tolerate coconut.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Coconut Allergy

Coconut allergy is usually diagnosed by a medical doctor (allergist) after a medical history, physical examination, and food allergy testing are performed.

The treatment for coconut allergy is the elimination of coconut from the diet. You'll need to avoid coconut-containing foods completely to avoid an allergic reaction.

Coconut is found in many food products and is added for flavor and texture. Foods most likely to contain coconut include granola bars, cookies, other desserts, and cereals.

The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) identifies coconut as a tree nut (even though it’s a fruit) for the purposes of product labeling and consumer protection against potential allergens. Manufacturers must list coconut as a potential allergen ingredient and foods containing coconut are required to be labeled "contains tree nuts" under FALCPA. You may also find statements that say, “contains coconut” on the label.

Not only will you find this information in the ingredients list, but it will also be on the package. Some products won’t call out coconut-based ingredients on the label. There are two things you can do in this situation: call the manufacturer and inquire about the specific ingredients contained in the product, and/or skip eating the product.

Foods to Avoid With a Coconut Allergy

To avoid coconut in foods, you must be a food label detective. Coconut is present in many foods as a derivative such as coconut oil, rice, sugar, water, cream, milk, and milk powder. You may find coconut in cakes, chocolates, rum, candy, and many desserts. It may also be included in infant formula. And, as mentioned, many coconut-derived ingredients are found in soaps and shampoos.

These foods contain coconut:

  • Coconut
  • Coconut milk
  • Coconut water
  • Coconut oil (highly refined oils are generally not problematic)
  • Coconut cream
  • Coconut milk powder
  • Coconut sugar

Food that May Contain Coconut

  • Candy bars (Almond Joy)
  • Cookies (macaroons)
  • Pie (coconut cream pie)
  • Yogurt (coconut flavor)
  • Ice cream
  • Granola
  • Smoothies
  • Mixed alcoholic drinks (piña coladas)

A Word from Verywell

Since there is no cure for coconut allergy at this point in time, living with a coconut allergy means learning to avoid coconut and coconut ingredients in foods and non-food items while being prepared for future reactions. You will need to carry an emergency first aid kit with you, including contact information, antihistamines, and an epinephrine auto-injector, if prescribed by your doctor.

If you've been diagnosed with a tree nut allergy, you should avoid coconut given that there is a possibility of cross-reactivity and tree nut reactions can be severe.

If you're allergic to another tree nut, yet have a history of eating coconut without a problem, and are interested in seeing whether coconut could be part of your diet, discuss further testing for coconut allergy with your allergist. Your allergist can let you know whether your test results and history indicate more testing or a food challenge as a reasonable next step.

If you have skin sensitivity to coconut—also known as contact allergic dermatitis—keep an eye out for ingredients and alcohols in beauty products that may be derived from coconut and avoid them.

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Article 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. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Tree nut allergy.

  2. USFDA. Section 201(qq) of the Act defines the term "major food allergen" to include "tree nuts." In addition to the three examples provided in section 201(qq) (almonds, pecans, and walnuts), what nuts are considered "tree nuts?" Updated February 1, 2016.

  3. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Food allergy.

  4. Anagnostou K. Coconut Allergy Revisited. Children (Basel). 2017;4(10). doi:10.3390/children4100085

  5. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. Coconut allergy. Updated 2019.

  6. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Everything you need to know about tree nut allergy.

  7. Anaphylaxis Campaign. Coconut allergy. Updated 2019.

  8. Kids With Food Allergies: A Division of Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Frequently asked questions about the food allergen labeling consumer protection act (FALCPA).

  9. Food Allergy Research & Education. Treating severe allergic reactions.

Additional Reading
  • American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Tree Nut Allergy fact sheet
  • Anaphylaxis Campaign. What Is Anaphylaxis? fact sheet.
  • Food Allergy Research and Education. Tree Nut Allergy fact sheet