The coconut allergy is one of the rarer allergies, especially of the other allergy deep dives I’ve done on this blog. However, more so than any other allergy, the coconut is the most insidious of allergies in how pervasive the coconut has become in our food, health and beauty care, and home care.
A coconut is the fruit of a coconut palm tree found all over the globe in warm tropical environments. They are not a tree nut or a nut at all, despite the “nut” found in their name. However, the US FDA classifies a coconut allergy as a tree nut allergy. If you have a tree nut allergy, it is possible you could also be allergic to coconuts.
The coconut meat and coconut oil can be found in any number of items of daily life. Food wise, coconut oil is often found in baked goods, infant formula, milks, chocolates, cookies, sauces, and alcohols. Further, coconut is found in many items like make up, body wash, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, all purpose cleaners, dish soaps, laundry detergents, and more.
Allergic reactions to eating coconut are pretty rare, however, contact allergic reactions to coconut are more common. So, if you are able to eat things with coconut in them, you might not be able to touch and use things with coconut.
I myself am severely allergic to coconut, in all forms. Even small particles in the air cause me to have an anaphylactic reaction. This has led me to learning how to do everything from make my own shampoo, all purpose cleaner, make my own face soap and moisturizer, and even my own hand soap.
If you are a fellow coconut allergic person, please leave a comment! I’d love to chat with another rare person like myself.
Being Your Own Allergy Advocate
When I was first diagnosed with my plethora of allergies back in the early 1990s, the word allergy was not as prevalent as today, and people really didn’t understand what it meant. I had relatives asking if they could just scrape off the nuts on the dessert and that would be fine, right? For seemingly the millionth time, my parents would explain that wasn’t and would offer me a safe to eat treat instead.
Even as pervasive as the word is today, there are still people who don’t really “get” allergies. For example, in grad school I encountered people who honestly didn’t believe that their eating of a bag of trail mix in the back of the classroom would cause me to have an anaphylactic reaction. There were several nights I would leave class early to go home and take medicine or even ended up in urgent care a few times thanks to the lack of concern people have about allergies.
Therefore, it is so important for you to be your own allergy advocate. Teach your kids if they have allergies to stick up for themselves and say something.
And if you are certain something is wrong, don’t give up! My primary care physician was unconvinced I had developed a new allergy in my late 20s. He was ready to prescribe an anti-acid medication, assuming I was eating too much fast food. However, I was adamant in my knowing that something was wrong and went to a new allergy specialist. I had my blood checked and my IgE levels were off the charts! We did an elimination diet and saw immediate improvements in my health. Be your own advocate at the doctor’s office, and make sure you take someone with you to help navigate if you need.
Coconut Allergy Safety in School and Work
If your child has a coconut allergy, make sure to let both the school and their individual teachers know of their allergy. Any medication they might need, including an EpiPen if the reaction is severe, needs to be kept at the school in case of emergencies.
In elementary school, when they have assigned seating, it is easier to maintain a clean workspace for your child. As they go through middle and high school and beyond, make sure to have them wipe down the desk before they use it as there could be oils on the desk after someone ate a granola bar, for example.
The most dangerous moments for your child will be during school parties when parents bring in sweet treats to celebrate. You must teach your child that they can’t participate in these events no matter how good the cupcake (or whatever the treat is) looks because we don’t know if it’s safe.
Another dangerous moment is at the lunch table. While you might pack a safe lunch for your kid, there is no guarantee that they don’t swap foods to share with friends at the table. This is another thing you need to teach your kids not to do.
In a work environment, you should inform your coworkers of your allergy and ask them to not eat coconut around you or your workspace, especially if your allergy is severe and anaphylactic. Making sure to wipe down surfaces is again important.
How to Read a Food Label with a Coconut Allergy
Learning how to read food labels is one of the most important things you can do after developing a coconut allergy. Always make sure that you read the entire label and not just quickly scan for coconut as ingredients can hide under different names.
Sometimes companies will place advisory statements on their label to say things such as, “May Contain” or “Produced in the same facility as…”. These are not required by law but are placed there at the discretion of the company. Talk with your doctor about if you should avoid these food labels as well.
In general, I tend to avoid any and all food products that list my own allergies on these advisory statements. You never know if one day cleaning the machines, an allergen was totally washed away or not. I err on the side of caution with my health and suggest you do the same.
What to Avoid with a Coconut Allergy
When looking at a food label, make sure that the ingredient list does not contain any of the following items. The list of foods to avoid is long, and while I’ve done my best to include them all here, I am sure there are more being made and discovered each day. If you know of an allergy name that I’ve missed, write it in the comments below and I’ll be sure to add it to the list!
- Coconut milk
- Coconut water
- Coconut oil
- Coconut cream
- Coconut milk powder
- Coconut sugar
- Coconut amino acids
Coconut Allergies and Body Care and Home Care Items
The most difficult part of a coconut allergy is how pervasive it’s use has become in goods that you don’t eat. Make up, shampoos, hand soaps, laundry detergents, and so many other products will now be off limits to you because of this allergy.
It sucks. I’m sorry. I’m right there with you.
Here is a list of chemicals and other names of ingredients that you need to avoid as they are all derivatives of the coconut.
- 1 2 Octanediol
- 2 Phenoxyethanol
- Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate
- Capryl Glycol
- Caprylic Acid
- Caprylic Glycol
- Cetearyl Alcohol
- Cetearyl Glucoside
- Ceteth-20 Phosphate
- Cetyl Alcohol
- Cetyl Esters
- Cocamide DEA / Coconut diethanolamide / diethanolamine / acid / CDEA – Other names for it: Calamide, Ninol, Witcamide
- Cocamide MEA
- Cocamide Sulphate
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine / CAPB / cocamidopropylbetaine / Lauramidopropyl betaine – * N-(carboxy methyl)-N, N-dimethyl-3-[(1-oxococonut) amino]-1-propanaminium hydroxide *, inner salt,source Tegobetaine L7, Cocoyl amide propyldimethyl glycine, coconut oil amidopropyl betainesource
- Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine – WiseGEEK says some manufacturers are replacing CAPB with this and that they claim it’s milder and more effective. I have no idea.
- Coco glucoside
- Coconut oil – Another name: cocos nucifera
- Coir (matting) – Contains coconut husks
- Decyl Glucoside – I have seen it listed on products as corn-derived, but it’s produced by the reaction of glucose from corn starch with the fatty alcohol decanol which is derived from coconut.
- Disodium Cocamphodiprop
- Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate
- Emusifying Wax
- Glyceryl Caprylate
- Glyceryl Cocoate
- Hexyl Laurate
- Isopropyl Myristate
- Lauryl Glucoside
- Lauryl Alcohol
- Lauramide DEA
- Myristic Acid
- Lauric Acid
- Olefin Sulfonate
- Organic Sodium Cocoate
- PEG – 7 Glyceryl Cocoate
- PEG -100
- PEG – 100 Stearate
- Polysorbate 20
- Sodium Cocoate
- Sodium Coco-Sulfate
- Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
- Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate
- Sucrose Stearate
- Sodium Lauroamphoacetate
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinat / Sodium Lauroyl Sarconsinate – I thought about adding ammonium lauroyl sarcosinate to the list, but I couldn’t find a source to confirm it. I just assume it would also be coconut-derived.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
- Sodium Myreth Sulfate
- Sodium Stearate
- Sorbitan Stearate
- Stearyl Alcohol
- Stearalkonium chloride
- Sucrose Cocoate
- Sucrose Stearate
- TEA-Laureth Sulfate
- Vegetable Cetearyl Glucos / Vegetable Cetearyl Glucose
- Vegetable Glycerine – Can be coconut or soy based. Make sure you check with the company.
Other Hidden Places for Coconut Allergies
It’s also important that you avoid coconut in home décor. Right now, it is popular to have coconut bowls, coconut roping and macramé, and even coconut utensils. While they are a good eco-friendly option for the planet, they are not good for us with coconut allergies. When purchasing a bowl, for example, please make sure you ensure it is not from a coconut tree.
Also, you want to make sure that if you purchase any new cast iron cookware, the oil used to coat the cast iron is not coconut oil.
- Perfumes are a place where coconut can hide.
- Make up
- Body paint around Halloween time
What You Can Use with a Coconut Allergy
After developing or discovering you coconut allergy, how you eat and how you live is very likely going to change. Cooking from home is one of the safest options for you and your family as you can ensure non allergens come into contact with your food, and thus, not cross contamination. Make sure your diet is filled with simple whole foods, such as meats, grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils.
Living with allergies has gotten so much better in the past few years thanks to the requirements of labeling all food in grocery stores, as well as the sheer quantity of allergy free alternatives available in most stores.
As for what I use to clean, this is an ever evolving list. You can read how I make my own skincare routine, how I make my own handsoap here. More articles on this will be written soon. Coconut allergies are something I’m very passionate about as it’s so difficult to live life with one.
For a list of my favorite coconut alternatives, and when each will work best in what recipes, make sure you grab a download of my free Food Swap Guide! It’s filled with over 45 swaps and substitutions so you can keep making your favorite recipes with your allergies.
Eating Out with Coconut Allergies
While not the biggest change to your life with a coconut allergy, there are some new considerations to make from the options available to you when dining out. No longer can you just go grab a quick bite to eat, nor will you be able to freely eat at a friend’s house.
The best way to avoid (or at least try to avoid) getting sick at restaurants is to research ahead of time. Most restaurants post their menus online, which gives me a chance to figure out if this restaurant would be a safe option. Even if the menu says “allergy friendly” you still should research, because it is really difficult to ensure that a chef or kitchen will wipe off any surfaces, open new bags of ingredients, or even use a different set of gloves when preparing food.
For coconut allergies in general, you want to be wary of Vegan and Asian inspired cuisine as they both rely heavily on coconut to flavor things.
When dining at a friend’s house, I will always ask if I can bring an option that is wheat allergy safe. Follow this link for an article that shares ideas for talking with your family and friends about your allergies.
Have other allergies? Check out these articles to learn more
Note: All recipes on this blog are coconut free and you are safe making and enjoying any one of them. 🙂