Developing food allergies later in life can turn your whole world upside down, and the transition from a carefree diet and lifestyle to feeling concern surrounding every decision you make is challenging and can be very hard to accept.
After being diagnosed with serious peanut and tree nut allergies at the age of 26 after two episodes of anaphylaxis and an overnight stay in the ICU, I can confirm that the lifestyle changes can be REALLY challenging to navigate, but, with time, it does get easier.
From living without food allergies to anaphalyxis
My first allergic reaction
One random evening in February 2018, my husband, Ryan, and I visited a new restaurant on the East Side of Milwaukee. We enjoyed our meal, went home, played with the dog… All seemed normal; that was until, suddenly, I began uncontrollably sneezing and wheezing to the point that I was incredibly frightened. I thought taking a shower would help, as I sometimes sneeze quite a bit from pet dander, so I hopped in the shower and quickly jumped out after realizing I had a very odd sensation in my throat; it felt like the walls of my throat were growing and my mouth was shrinking, so, the idea of taking a breath seemed almost impossible. Absolutely TERRIFYING.
I yelled to Ryan to grab the car keys and that we needed to leave to go to the emergency room NOW.
Thankfully, our home is only a short drive from Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa. Once we arrived at the emergency room, I was quickly triaged and taken to a room. Within minutes, the sensation of my throat closing became stronger and, suddenly, I realized that upwards of ten staff members of the ER were surrounding me, injecting me with epinephrine, and taking my vitals.
In retrospect, this experience is sort of a blur, but I do remember seeing a look of deep concern in one of the nurse’s faces and realizing that what was happening was really serious.
Thankfully, epinephrine is a powerful drug and, within moments, I was able to take a deep breath, the wheezing had almost entirely subsided, and the hives that had covered my entire body just minutes before were dissipating.
Overnight ICU Stay
Since my reaction was so serious, I was admitted to the ICU for overnight observation as the doctors wanted to keep me on an epi drip.
I was taken from the ER to ICU at around 2:00 am and, as it was the middle of the night, the floor of the ICU was almost silent… until I was wheeled in. LOL.
If you don’t know a lot about epinephrine (which I did not as this allergy was brand new to me), you may not know that it’s pure adrenaline, the hormone that our bodies naturally create in times of stress that increases our blood circulation, breathing, and energy. Basically, at this point in the night, I felt as though I had drank 65 shots of espresso and 200 energy drinks. I. WAS. WIRED.
Luckily, the nurse stationed on the ICU floor was hilarious and took my intense energy and constant jabbering in stride. Throughout the night, she’d come check on me and I was, of course, wide awake, fidgeting in my hospital bed, trying to find something to do to pass the time until I was discharged.
Later that morning, I was cleared to leave the hospital and was sent home with two epi pens, an albuterol inhaler, and detailed instructions about NEVER, EVER going anywhere without these medical devices. Multiple members of the staff stressed over-and-over that, without the epi pens and inahler on-hand, I could instantly find myself in a fatal situation. That was enough to convince me. Everywhere I go, I carry a fanny pack with my epi pens, inhaler, and liquid Benadryl tucked inside.
Another Hospital Visit
Unfortunately, I had another allergy scare on my 27th birthday. This reaction was nowhere near the severity of the first one, but it did land us in the ER with me needing an epi injection. I have no idea what caused this reaction, but it may have been cross-contamination at a restaurant we had my birthday dinner at.
Since I still have absolutely no idea what was causing these reactions, I knew I desperately needed to get allergy testing; unfortunately, however, after you experience an allergic reaction and are given about 5 gallons of antihistamine (obviously not how much, but it certainly felt that way) in a short period of time, you cannot immediately have allergy testing done. So, basically, I was in this incredibly scary limbo where I knew I was deathly allergic to something, but I had no idea to what and there was no way to accurately test me for several weeks after the reactions.
Finally, after a few weeks of waiting, I visited an allergy specialist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and received a skin prick test that showed results of allergies to peanuts and all tree nuts. I was SHOCKED, to say the least, as I honestly used to eat almond butter by the spoonfuls on a nightly basis. I didn’t understand how these results could even be possible.
Nut Allergy Symptoms In Adults
In retrospect, however, I should have realized that I was experiencing some level of allergic reactions to nuts before the anaphylactic episode. Months leading up to the event, after I would eat a handful of Brazil nuts or a spoonful of peanut or almond butter, my hands would become hot, itchy, and blotchy with hives.
In adults, nut allergy symptoms can be various, but can suddenly, without notice, become life-threatening. If you or someone you are with eats a nut-containing food and begins to experience any of the below symptoms, get to a hospital immediately; or, if the reaction is serious enough, call 911. Do not wait.
Common Symptoms of Nut Allergies in Adults:
- Throat tightness or hoarseness,
- Itchy throat or mouth,
- Difficulty swallowing,
- Facial swelling,
- Trouble breathing or wheezing,
- Skin irritation, rash, or hives, and
- Gastrointestinal distress.
Common Nut Allergies
Those with nut allergies are often allergic to all tree nuts. The most common nut allergies are to tree nuts, which include:
- pistachios, and
- Brazil nuts.
Some people, however, may only be allergic to peanuts, which are, in fact, not a nut at all, but are, rather, a legume. I, personally, am allergic to both tree nuts and peanuts.
What Causes Nut Allergies in Adults
After my first experience of hospitalization from an episode of
anaphylaxis, I was completely at a loss as to how I suddenly had food allergies that were that severe. After doing a lot of digging in medical journals and speaking with my allergist and other medical professionals, I learned that developing nut allergies later in life is not terribly uncommon, however it is mostly unknown as to why nut allergies begin in adulthood. While more research is needed, some scientists believe that allergies can develop in adulthood due to:
One study found that first-time significant allergic reactions occurred most often in seniors, potentially due to illness or other conditions, such as heart disease. This research may indicate that health conditions may be the underlying cause of adult onset food allergies.
For me, I assume the cause of my allergies stems from my gut problems. In the last few years, I have had a myriad of health problems that are more than likely the effect of stomach issues, which both my GI doctor and myself believe to be Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (commonly referred to as “SIBO”), though I’ve never had an official test or diagnosis confirming this. Regardless, I believe that my compromised gut has lead to a variety of health concerns, the most serious of which are my food allergies.
What these allergies meant for my food blog
If I’m being totally transparent with you, I was devastated by the news of my allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Really. On my way home from that appointment, I cried. A lot…not entirely because I knew how much this would change my personal diet (almond butter was my favorite snack and I ate it every single day), but because I thought my low-carb food blogging career was over.
Low-carb and keto recipes, especially baked good recipes, almost always contain some nut flour, most often, almond flour. Seeing as how severe my allergy was, there was no way in hell that I felt comfortable handling almond-containing ingredients in any capacity. I was just so incredibly concerned that my business would quickly fold now that I couldn’t create recipes with almond flour.
Transitioning to a nut-free keto food blog
After a few days of feeling pretty (read: “VERY”) sorry for myself, I decided that it was time to come up with a game plan for how recipes on Real Balanced would look going forward.
I have since transitioned to only developing low-carb recipes that are nut-free. I have pivoted my frame of mind from this diagnosis impacting my life negatively to, instead, an opportunity to creatively challenge myself in the kitchen.
After I shared with Real Balanced readers that all of my new recipes would be nut-free, I received so much support and many personal messages from others who were struggling to navigate a keto diet with peanut and tree nut allergies. Many of you have reached out to say that eating a low-carb diet seemed almost impossible as a majority of recipes contain nuts in some form, so, if this sounds like you, I hope my site can serve as a resource to you and make eating keto with nut allergies a little easier.
Living With Nut Allergies
Living with nut allergies can be frightening and challenging; not just for the person diagnosed with the allergy, but even for family and friends.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
What has personally worked best for me is being very, very clear and communicative about my allergies wherever I go with whoever I am with. If we eat out a restaurant, I tell the waiter or waitress about the allergies and I remind those who I am with that I have life-threatening allergies and where they can find my epi pens, should I need them and am unable to administer them myself.
Even if you feel like you may be a hindrance or that you may annoy someone, SO BE IT. Communicate. And then communicate about it some more. Tell everyone you’re with about your allergies. Some people will choose to brush this off or minimize it, but don’t let them, and if they do not respect your allergies and choose to eat foods near you that are creating a risk for you, LEAVE. It’s just not worth putting yourself in danger, and it’s also not worth wasting your breath trying to convince someone that death from an allergic reaction to food is very possible. If someone doesn’t immediately understand it, I choose to not be around that person; it’s no skin off my nose.
Work to Minimize Fear
Living with allergies is scary, and when you’ve experienced
anaphylaxis, I think it’s only natural that fear surrounding food is bound to occur. I still experience A LOT of anxiety about eating out at restaurants, attending events, and, even grocery shopping where food samples are being handed out. The likelihood that I’ll experience a reaction now that I better know my food allergies? Unlikely, yet I am absolutely still fearful.
My best advice would be to explain to those around you as best as possible about how you are feeling and, should you feel anxious enough that the thought of eating elsewhere is causing you distress, opt out. Really. I have had to say “no” to so many events, especially those where peanuts are being shelled and eaten and the route to a hospital is complicated (most notably, baseball stadiums).
If you feel fearful, know that it is completely understandable. It DOES get easier over time and, for me, has just taken a lot of practice and a concerted effort to learn everything that I feasibly can about my food allergies.
Don’t Take Any Chances
If you have any uncertainty about a meal or food product containing nuts, don’t eat it. It is not worth the risk. My best advice about ensuring you have something safe to eat is to carry nut-free products with you and to plan ahead before events. Bring shelf-stable snacks along and, if a full meal is being served and you are unsure of the ingredients, don’t be afraid to pack yourself an entire meal; I do this all the time and, at first, people gave me confused stares, but now, everyone is used to it and doesn’t think twice.
My favorite shelf-stable, nut-free, and keto-friendly snacks are:
- Beef sticks,
- Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds,
- Spoonful of SunButter,
- Canned tuna and canned sardines,
- Unsweetened coconut flakes,
- Coconut butter, and
- Pork rinds.
Check out this awesome keto list of the
How to Eat Keto With Nut Allergies
Concerned about following a keto diet with nut allergies? I’ve been there before and, trust me, I know just how confusing it is. It seems like most every keto recipe out there contains some variation of almond flour and peanut butter… So, if you’re like me and follow a ketogenic diet and have peanut and tree nut allergies, I do know just how challenging following this type of diet can be.
Easy, Everyday Keto and Nut Free Meals at Home
For me, I have found that always being prepared with low-carb and nut-free foods is essential. I almost always have some shelf-stable snack in my purse, just in case I need something to eat and don’t have any other safe option.
When I’m at home and am cooking for myself and Ryan, I usually prepare and eat the below foods on a daily basis:
- Protein cooked in butter, ghee, or avocado oil
- Beef, pork, chicken, or eggs most often
- Protein cooked in butter, ghee, or avocado oil
- Protein with grilled or air-fried vegetables, or,
- Taco bowl with seasoned ground beef, chopped romaine, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and guacamole.
Keto and Nut Free Recipes
When I’m developing recipes for the blog, I focus on creating meals and desserts that are full of flavor, simple to prepare, and allergy-safe.
I especially love to create keto baked goods, which, at first, I will admit, felt rather complicated when almond flour was eliminated as an option. But, after some practice, I have found that with the proper ratios, nut free keto desserts are possible and delicious!
Ingredients needed for most nut free keto baked good recipes:
You can find all of my low-carb and nut-free recipes here!
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Nut allergies are a challenge, but it does get easier!
Like anything in life, staying safe with nut allergies takes practice. At first, it is normal to feel frustrated and scared, but don’t let these emotions take over you.
Take every necessary precaution (most notably, carrying Benadryl and your epi pens) and it WILL be okay. I promise!
What to carry with you when you have nut allergies
I purchased a fanny pack off of Amazon and packed it with liquid Benadryl, my albuterol inhaler, and two epi pens. I carry this fanny pack around my waist when I am out on walks or in my purse. I never go anywhere without my fanny pack!
Do you have nut allergies?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
If so, when were you diagnosed? What have your experiences with nut allergies been?
Click here for my Nut-Free Keto Pantry Staples blog post!