Ultimate Guide to Happy Living with Coconut Allergy

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Coconut allergy is generally considered a rare condition.

However, if you have a coconut allergy or avoid coconut for another reason, you may find it challenging to know what you can eat and what you have to avoid. Coconut is a very popular ingredient in many recipes and is found in many health and beauty products.

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Coconut Food Family

Coconut is a very popular ingredient and is found in many forms. Coconuts are also known as cocos nucifera (source). Coconut is the edible fruit that grows on the coconut palm tree (source). They come from the Arecaceae family. The family is also known as the Palm Family or the Palm Plant Family (source).

Coconut Allergy Cross-Reactivity

Some studies indicate there may be cross-reactivity between coconuts and specific tree nuts. This is due to the foods having similar proteins.

These tree nuts are associated with Coconut Allergy cross reactivity:

Coconut Allergy and Tree Nut Allergies

There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to coconut and tree nut allergies. Coconuts are distinct from other types of tree nuts. Despite this, there is some concern for coconut and nut allergies.

Can a Person with Nut Allergies Eat Coconut?

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends that if you are allergic to tree nuts, you should consult with an allergist before eating coconut (source).

Is Coconut Allergy a Nut Allergy? Is Coconut Allergy a Tree Nut Allergy?

If you are allergic to peanut or tree nuts, you might have found the topic of coconut allergy to be confusing.

Coconut palm tree with green leaves and green coconut, view from under the tree for Single Ingredient Groceries blog post about coconut allergy.

Coconut allergy is not considered a nut allergy.

Coconut allergy is not considered a tree nut allergy.

The terms nut allergy and tree nut allergy does not include coconut.

However, people with hypersensitivity reactions to coconut should be tested for tree nut allergies (source).

Also, people who are allergic to tree nuts should consult an allergist before eating coconut (source).

Is Coconut a Fruit or a Nut?

The Food and Drug Administration defines “major food allergen” to include “tree nuts.”

In its list of tree nuts, the following are included (source):

  • Almond
  • Beech nut
  • Brazil nut
  • Butter nut
  • Cashew
  • Chestnut (Chinese, American, European, Seguin)
  • Chinquapin
  • Coconut
  • Filbert / Hazelnut
  • Gingko nut
  • Hickory nut
  • Lichee nut
  • Macadamia nut / Bush nut
  • Pecan
  • Pine nut / Pinon nut
  • Pili nut
  • Pistacio
  • Sheanut
  • Walnut (English, Persian, Black, Japanese, California) / Heartnut / Butternut

So, based on this, the FDA defines coconut as a tree nut.

However, botanically speaking, a coconut is not considered a true nut. It may be classified as a nut, a seed, and a fruit. The botanical definitions are fascinating and very precise (source).

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology explains it this way:

“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 (source).”

Coconut Allergy and Oral Allergy Syndrome

Oral allergy syndrome is an allergic reaction affecting the lips, mouth, and throat. It is associated with cross-reactivity of plant proteins and pollens. Coconut is not commonly associated with oral allergy syndrome (source).

Coconut Allergy and Cross Contamination

If you have a coconut allergy, coconut sensitivity, or follow a coconut-free diet for any reason, cross-contamination is a risk that should be considered.

Cross-contamination may be encountered in many settings, especially where coconut items are being served. Take caution in restaurants that serve dishes made with coconut as well as on buffets and salad bars that contain coconut and foods made with coconut.

Coconut Allergy Symptoms

Allergic reactions to coconut are likely to be similar to reactions to other food allergens.

Common Food Allergy Signs and Symptoms

Common food allergy signs and symptoms include the following (source). Reactions may include one or many reactions, and severity may vary based on factors such as the amount eaten and other factors.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Eczema
  • Fainting
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Itching in the mouth
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Nasal congestion
  • Swelling of any body part
  • Swelling of the face
  • Swelling of the lips
  • Swelling of the tongue and throat
  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Trouble breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing

Anaphylaxis Signs and Symptoms

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction. This severe allergic reaction can be caused by food allergy or other allergies.

Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis include (source):

  • Constriction of the airway
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Fast pulse
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sensation of a lump in the throat
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Shock including a drastic drop in blood pressure
  • Swollen throat
  • Tightening of the airway

Coconut Oil Allergy

Coconut oil is a cold-pressed oil and is unrefined. Coconut oil is used for cooking, in beauty products, directly on the skin, hair, and scalp. It is also used orally for oil pulling.

People who are allergic to coconut should avoid coconut oil and products that contain coconut oil and derivatives.

Coconut oil and extracts may be found in these products (source).

  • Body Makeup
  • Hair Conditioner
  • Hair Shampoo
  • Hand gels
  • Lotion
  • Makeup
  • Moisturizers
  • Perfume

 People who are allergic to coconut should read ingredient labels to make sure their products do not contain any coconut derivatives.

Contact dermatitis is a common reaction to coconut oil and coconut products in beauty products.

Coconut Milk Allergy     

Coconut milk is made from the white meat of the fruit. It can be prepared from scratch and is sold in various commercial products such as canned coconut milk, in cartons, and fermented into yogurt.

Coconut milk is commonly used in soups, curries, rice dishes, and many other recipes.

Anyone who has a coconut allergy should avoid coconut milk.

Other Reasons to Avoid Coconut

Coconut allergy is not the only reason people avoid coconut. The following are common reasons why people may follow a coconut-free diet.

  • Avoidance of hydrogenated oils such as hydrogenated coconut oil
  • Coconut Intolerance
  • Coconut Sensitivity
  • Concern for the fatty acid profile of coconut
  • Dental discomfort (specifically with shredded coconut)
  • Digestive concerns
  • Strong dislike of the distinct flavor

Coconut Intolerance

Food intolerances are generally defined as any adverse food reaction that is not due to an immune response.

  • People with fructose intolerance may not tolerate some coconut products.
  • People with histamine intolerance may not tolerate fermented or dried coconut products.
  • People with some digestive disorders may not tolerate the dietary fat in coconut and coconut products.

Coconut Sensitivity

While not an IgE mediated allergy, some people have a coconut sensitivity. This involves other immune pathways and may result in adverse symptoms. A Certified Leap Therapist can help uncover food sensitivities (source).

Contact Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis is more common than coconut allergies. Contact dermatitis can be identified as an itchy blistering rash that may occur within 24-48 hours of exposure to potential allergens (source).

Adverse reactions can occur in people who previously tolerated coconut topically and/or orally (source).

If you believe that coconut may have caused this reaction, check the ingredients label of your household cosmetics. The coconut derivative may appear as one of the ingredients listed below.

Coconut Oil Derivatives

Many cosmetic ingredients may be derived from coconut (source, source, source). Coconut derived ingredients may be labeled using the terms below:

  • Ammonium Cocomonoglyceride Sulfate
  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate
  • Butylene Glycol Cocoate
  • Capric
  • Capric Glycerides
  • Capric Triglycerides
  • Capryl Glycol
  • Caprylic
  • Caprylic Acid
  • Caprylic Glycol
  • Caprylic Glycerides
  • Caprylic Triglycerides
  • Caprylyl Glycol
  • CDEA
  • CDFA
  • Ceteareth-20
  • Cetearyl Alcohol
  • Cetearyl Glucoside
  • Ceteth-20 Phosphate
  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Cetyl Esters
  • Cocamide DEA
  • Cocamide MEA
  • Cocamide sulfate
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine
  • Coco Glucoside
  • Coco Glycerides
  • Cococaprate
  • Cococaprylate
  • Cocoglycerides
  • Cocomide DEA
  • Coconut
  • Coconut Acid
  • Coconut Alcohol
  • Coconut diethanolamide (CDFA)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Coconut Oil Decyl Esters
  • Coconut diethanolamide
  • Cocos Nucifera
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Flower Extract
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit / Fruit Juice Extract
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Juice
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Powder
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Water
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Liquid Endosperm
  • Cocus Nucifera (Coconut) Oil
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Shell Powder
  • Decyl Cocoate
  • Decyl Glucoside
  • Disodium Cocamphodiprop
  • Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate
  • Ethylhexyl Cocoate
  • Emulsifying Wax
  • Glyceryl Caprylate
  • Glyceryl Cocoate
  • Hexyl Laurate
  • Hydrogenated Coco-Glycerides
  • Hydrogenated Coconut Acid
  • Hydrogenated Coconut Oil
  • Isodecyl Cocoate
  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Laureth-3
  • Lauric Acid
  • Lauryl Alcohol
  • Lauryl Cocoate
  • Lauryl Glucoside
  • Magnesium Cocoate
  • Methyl Cocoate
  • Myristic Acid
  • Octyldodecyl Cocoate
  • Olefin Sulfonate
  • Organic Sodium Cocoate
  • PEG – 7 Glyceryl Cocoate
  • PEG -100
  • PEG – 100 Stearate
  • Pentaerythrityl Cocoate
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Polysorbate 20
  • Potassium Cocoate
  • Potassium Hydrogenated Cocoate
  • Sodium Coco-Sulfate
  • Sodium Cocoate
  • Sodium Cocomonoglyceride Sulfate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate
  • Sodium Hydrogenated Cocoate
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauroamphoacetate
  • Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinat
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Sodium Stearate
  • Sorbitan Stearate
  • Stearyl Alcohol
  • Stearalkonium Chloride
  • Sucrose Cocoate
  • Sucrose Stearate
  • TEA-Laureth Sulfate
  • Tridecyl Cocoate
  • Vegetable Cetearyl Glucose
  • Vegetable Glycerine
  • 1,2 Octanediol
  • 2 Phenoxyethanol

Even though this list is lengthy, this list may not be exhaustive. Be sure to call the manufacturer if in doubt.

Coconut Food Sources

Coconut is a common food ingredient and is found in many forms. The various forms of coconut can be found in many cuisines and in many recipes.

Foods to Avoid & Forms of Coconut to Avoid

If you follow a coconut free diet, the following foods should be avoided:

  • Coconut
  • Coconut Aminos
  • Coconut Cream
  • Coconut Extract
  • Coconut Flour
  • Coconut Milk
  • Coconut Milk Powder
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Coconut Oil
  • Coconut Powder
  • Coconut Water
  • Grated Coconut
  • Shredded Coconut
Infographic titled Foods Made From Coconut for blog post about Coconut allergy for Single Ingredient Groceries; image and text for shredded coconut, coconut milk, coconut flour, coconut oil, coconut sugar, coconut water and coconut cream.

Food Labels

Because the Food and Drug Administration considers coconut a tree nut, coconut must be clearly labeled on food labels (source).

If coconut is in a food product, the manufacture must list it using its common or usual name or by using a “contains” statement (source).

Possible Hidden Sources of Coconut

Because coconut is such a popular and useful ingredient, it is helpful to be aware of foods that may contain coconut as an ingredient.

Coconut is used in foods for taste and texture (think about coconut doughnuts).

Coconut is a popular alternative to dairy. Examples include coconut yogurt and coconut milk.

It is also used to make dairy-free products such as vegan cheese taste good, look good, and have a good texture.

The following foods and grocery items may contain hidden coconut:

  • Alcoholic beverages (Pina Coladas)
  • Baked goods
  • Chocolate candy – Almond Joy, Mounds
  • Coffee creamer
  • Cookies -Macaroons
  • Curry Sauces
  • Dairy-Free Ice cream – Coconut based non-dairy frozen desserts
  • Dairy-Free Products
  • Dairy-Free Yogurt – Coconut Yogurt
  • Fruit Juices and Fruit Blends
  • Gluten-Free products – May be made with coconut flour
  • Granola
  • Keto products – may use coconut four and coconut oil
  • Pies – Coconut Cream Pie
  • Smoothies
  • Shrimp recipes

Coconut Free Diet

People who follow a coconut-free diet can generally eat a variety of other types of foods.

Even though coconut is a popular ingredient, there are many substitutions and alternatives to coconut.

Substitute for Shredded Coconut

If your recipe calls for shredded coconut, consider trying:

  • Breadcrumbs (for recipes such as coconut shrimp)
  • Crushed Almond, Pecan, or Pistachio (for flavor and texture)
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Vanilla Extract
  • White Chocolate (for decoration)

Substitute for Coconut Oil

If a recipe or dish you are preparing calls for coconut oil, here are some great alternative options (source):

  • Apple sauce (vegan baking)
  • Avocado oil (all-around use)
  • Butter (great for baking)
  • Corn Oil (sautéing and deep frying)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (low heat cooking)
  • Soybean Oil (sautéing and deep frying)

Be sure to consider the smoke point and flavor of the oil you choose in relation to how the oil is being used in a recipe (source).

Coconut Milk Substitute        

These are also great alternatives to coconut milk:

  • Almond Milk
  • Cashew Milk
  • Cow’s Milk
  • Evaporated Milk
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Half and Half 
  • Heavy Cream
  • Hemp Milk
  • Oat Milk
  • Soy Milk

When choosing an alternative to coconut milk, be sure to consider what it is being used for in a recipe.

Is it for thickness and texture? If so, evaporated milk, whole milk, or Greek yogurt might be good choices.

Is it for a beverage or for cereal? Perhaps a plant milk such as almond milk, hemp milk, or soy milk would work.

Is it for the distinct coconut flavor in a savory meal, like a curry? Depending on the recipe, a cow’s milk dairy might work. Or, an unsweetened plant milk might give the lighter color and texture that coconut milk would.

Some dishes might be best with the coconut milk omitted and allowing the other flavors to be more prominent.

Coconut Sugar Substitute

There are many sweeteners available that can be substituted for Coconut Sugar:

  • Agave Syrup
  • Beet Sugar
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cane Sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Monk Fruit

Substitute for Coconut Water

Maple Water is a delicious and nutritious alternative to coconut water.

Help For Coconut Allergy, Coconut Sensitivity, and Coconut Intolerance

If you suspect you have coconut, coconut oil, coconut milk, tree nut allergy, or contact dermatitis, it is recommended that you contact your physician or allergist to help get an accurate diagnosis.

As coconut allergies are rare and need to be diagnosed since it is used in many household cosmetics and food products. Food allergy testing may be needed.

Work with an Allergist, Registered Dietitian, or a Leap Therapist for help with finding ways to substitute and avoid coconut or coconut-containing products.

When in doubt, go with safety first. Always seek medical advice from allergy specialists if you need more information.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Coconut Allergy

Coconut allergy may be difficult to diagnose. We recommend working with an Allergist to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

Working with a Registered Dietitian, Certified Nutrition Specialist, or Certified Leap Therapist may help identify coconut intolerance and coconut sensitivity. These healthcare providers can also help you plan an enjoyable, nourishing diet that is safe and free of unnecessary restrictions.

The goals of treatment for anyone who must avoid coconut is to have a safe and nourishing diet.

Safety – Eating Out – School & Social Settings

If you avoid coconut or any specific foods, it is good to have a safety plan. The following strategies may be helpful:

  • Always check ingredient lists and read all food labels.
  • Be aware of common ways the trigger food is used.
  • Be aware of possible hidden sources of the trigger food.
  • Ask your doctor if you should carry an epi pen or other medication in case of accidental ingestion.
  • Have a support system such as friends, family members, school nurse, teachers, coworkers, and your health care providers.
  • Ask questions about how food is prepared and handled.
  • When in doubt, choose safety first.

Final Thoughts

Coconut allergies are rare, but they do exist.

Coconut is considered a fruit and is only distantly related to tree nuts. It is a common ingredient found within food products and household cosmetics. There are many great options to substitute coconut and coconut products that you can use in everyday life.

This article is for informational purposes only. 

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Authors

  • Lisa Hugh is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Leap Therapist. She has a Masters of Science in Healthcare Administration. As a a Food Sensitivity Expert, her passion is helping people with complex medical and nutrition needs find food and groceries that are safe and enjoyable. Lisa enjoys helping clients in her private practice.

  • Pamela Hawkins is a dietetic intern. She has a Bachelors of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences and a Masters of Science in in Human Clinical Nutrition Integrative Health. She is experienced in the nutrition care of women, infants, and children and is an experienced health coach.

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