Here is an excerpt from Dyana’s e-mail:
I am allergic to coconut and coconut oil. These are found in all kinds of things from shampoos, to breakfast cereals, and any mint flavored ice cream product on the market. I can't even eat popcorn at the movies any more because theaters use coconut oil to cook popcorn. One of the biggest problems people with this allergy are facing is that it is being marketed as being healthier and a good allergy free alternative. Help!
My response follows:
Dear Dyana, I am sorry to hear that you have a food allergy. Yes, I know how you feel, and I understand that everywhere you look you see your food allergen. This is good news, because you can’t avoid what you can’t see. I think this is heightened awareness (kind of like after you buy a red car you notice every red car on the road). The solution, of course, is to avoid coconut.
First, let me address food. While many of us (myself included) believe that coconut should not be classified as a nut, the FDA includes coconut in their classification of tree nuts. That is good news for you, because the top eight food allergens (including tree nuts) must be clearly called out on all food labels. That should help you pinpoint which products do (and do not) contain coconut.
But those food labeling laws only pertain to things we eat – not cosmetics, shampoos, etc. I understand this problem well; as more manufacturers are trying to remove parabens from their products, they are replacing them with “natural” ingredients (like wheat and soy proteins which I am allergic to and nut oils including coconut). This means that we have to dig deeper when checking ingredients.
You are correct that coconut oil is being embraced – especially by vegans, and yes – even some of us in the food allergy community. For those who are allergic to milk, coconut oil can be a great alternative to butter/margarine, and coconut milk is a terrific non-dairy milk to bake with. But the good news for you is that you can substitute milk or butter back in, where those products are called for in recipes.
Now, I’ll open it up to the readers. What advice do you have for Dyana? Are there any coconut-allergic people out there who have products to suggest?