The Coconut Allergy Diet Guide

Coconut split and shavings

Verywell / Zorica Lakonic 

Coconut allergy is very rare. There are only a few reported cases of food allergy to coconut in the medical literature.

Coconut is the seed of the coconut palm tree. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies coconut as a tree nut. This is for labeling purposes. Coconut is actually a fruit, not a nut.

This article looks at the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of coconut allergy. It also discusses what foods to avoid if you have a coconut allergy.

What is Coconut Allergy?

In rare cases, a person may have an allergic reaction after eating coconut. An allergic reaction happens when your body mistakes a harmless substance for a threat.

Allergic reactions to coconut on the skin, called contact dermatitis, are more common than food allergies to coconut. Because coconut allergy is rare, researchers don't know if a person with a coconut food allergy can safely use coconut-based skincare products or vice versa. If you have any coconut allergies, ask your doctor before using any products derived from coconut.

Similarly, if you have a tree nut allergy, it is best to consult your doctor before adding coconut to your diet. This is because a few people are allergic to tree nuts and coconut.

Most people with tree nut allergies can safely eat coconut, but talk to your doctor first.

Coconut Allergy Symptoms

People who have coconut allergy may have food allergy symptoms after drinking or eating foods made with coconut. These reactions may include:

Severe reactions, called anaphylaxis, may occur in coconut allergy, but they are very rare. These reactions can affect multiple organ systems.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:

  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or slow heart rate
  • Feeling confused or anxious
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Swelling of the throat

You may have symptoms all over your body.

Contact Dermatitis and Coconut Allergy

Some people may experience allergic contact dermatitis after exposure to coconut-derived products. These products include:

  • Cocamide sulfate
  • Cocamide diethanolamine (Cocamide DEA)
  • Coconut diethanolamide (CDEA)

You can find these ingredients in personal care products like:

  • Shampoos
  • Moisturizers
  • Soaps
  • Cleansers
  • Hand washing liquids

An itchy, blistering rash may develop a day or two after coming into contact with the coconut allergen. It may take several days to go away.

If you suspect contact dermatitis due to coconut, contact your doctor. Testing can confirm whether you have a coconut allergy.

Recap

If you have a coconut allergy, you may experience hives, stomach upset, breathing problems, or swelling after eating something containing coconut. 

Some people may experience contact dermatitis after using skincare products containing coconut. This usually appears as an itchy, blistering rash.

Cross-Reactivity and Coconut Allergy

Cross-reactivity is when you are allergic to two or more different substances that contain similar allergenic proteins.

Coconuts are most closely related to other palm and betel nuts. This type of relationship isn't the only factor that determines whether two foods will be cross-reactive. Close relatives, though, often have related allergenic proteins.

Cashews and pistachios, for example, are closely related. They also contain similar proteins. People who are allergic to one are often also allergic to the other.

Allergy Alert

There is some evidence of cross-reactivity between:

  • Coconuts and hazelnuts
  • Coconuts and walnuts

Because coconuts and tree nuts aren't closely related, though, most people with tree nut allergy can probably tolerate coconut.

Diagnosing and Treating Coconut Allergy

Coconut allergy is usually diagnosed by an allergist. To make the diagnoses, your allergist will:

Coconut allergy is treated with dietary changes. If you have a coconut allergy, you will need to eliminate coconut from your diet. This means completely avoiding all foods that contain coconut. This is the only way to avoid an allergic reaction.

The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) identifies coconut as a tree nut. This is for product labeling purposes. These labels help protect consumers against potential allergens.

Under FALCPA, manufacturers must list coconut as a potential allergen ingredient. This information must appear either in the ingredients list or in a statement at the end of the list. They are not, however, required to say if a product is manufactured in a facility that also processes coconut. This type of labeling is voluntary.

Not all products will list coconut derivatives on the label. If you are concerned a product may contain a coconut derivative, you can call the manufacturer and ask about the specific ingredients. You can also choose not to use the product.

Recap

Coconut allergy is diagnosed based on your medical history, physical exam, and an allergy test. If you have a coconut allergy, you will need to avoid all foods that contain coconut.

Food to Avoid for Coconut Allergy

It can be hard to avoid coconut in foods. You must learn how to read the food labels. Coconut is present in many foods as a derivative. These are substances made from coconut.

Coconut is found in many food products. It is sometimes added for flavor and texture. Foods most likely to contain coconut include:

  • Granola bars
  • Curry sauces
  • Cookies
  • Cereals
  • Other types of desserts

You may also find coconut in surprising places, like:

  • Rum
  • Infant formula
  • Soaps and shampoos

Watch for any form of coconut on the label, including:

  • Coconut
  • Coconut milk
  • Coconut water
  • Coconut oil, though highly refined oils are usually not a problem
  • Coconut cream
  • Coconut milk powder
  • Coconut sugar

Food that May Contain Coconut

  • Candy bars like Almond Joy
  • Cookies such as macaroons
  • Coconut cream pie
  • Coconut flavored yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Granola
  • Smoothies
  • Mixed alcoholic drinks such as piña coladas

Coconut Oil Allergy

Since coconut allergy is rare, healthcare professionals don't know how people with coconut allergy might respond to products containing coconut oil. 

Based on the limited information in the medical literature, coconut oil allergy seems to be even more rare than coconut allergy.

Still, if you have a coconut allergy, it is possible you will also be allergic to coconut oil. This is a good reason to avoid products containing coconut oil. 

Summary

Coconut allergy is very rare. If you have a coconut allergy, you may experience symptoms after eating foods that contain coconut. These may include rash and hives, stomach upset, wheezing or coughing, and swelling of the lips, tongue, and face.

After exposure to skincare products and shampoos containing coconut, contact dermatitis is more common. This may appear as an itchy, blistering rash.

If you think you might have a coconut allergy, you will need allergy testing to confirm a diagnosis. People with coconut allergies need to avoid eating anything that contains coconut. Most product labels will list coconut as a potential allergen. Look for any form of coconut including things like coconut milk and coconut sugar.

A Word from Verywell

There is no cure for coconut allergy. This means if you have a coconut allergy, you will need to learn to avoid coconut and coconut ingredients. This includes ingredients in food and non-food items. You will also need to learn to be prepared in case a reaction happens.

Carry an emergency first aid kit. This kit should include contact information and antihistamines. It should also include your epinephrine auto-injector or EpiPen if prescribed by your doctor.

If you're allergic to another tree nut but want to keep coconut in your diet, talk to your allergist. Further testing can help guide you towards the reasonable next step.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is coconut allergy?

    Coconut allergy is very rare. There are only a few reports of it in the medical literature. Still, it is possible to have a coconut allergy. If you experience food allergy symptoms after eating coconut, consult an allergist.

  • What kind of allergen is coconut?

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies coconut as a tree nut. However, it is actually a fruit. Most people with coconut allergies are not allergic to tree nuts.

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12 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.
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