Nuts pop up in a ton of plant-based dishes, boosting fat and protein levels of sauces, smoothies, baked goods and more – which is great for lots of eaters but a big problem for the 1.1 percent of the population that has serious tree nut allergies. All the advances in vegan “cheesemaking” in the world aren’t much use if a bite of cashew could send you into anaphylaxis. That can make it seem challenging – and even legitimately scary – to go vegan if you have a nut allergy. But with attention to detail and a few key swaps, it can absolutely be done.
The six tree nut allergies most commonly reported by children and adults are walnut, almond, hazelnut, pecan, pistachio, and cashew (though there are 18 different tree nuts in total, and any of them could be to blame). “For anyone who has an allergy, always be sure to check the ingredients on the food label,” advises registered dietitian Ashley Shaw, MS, RD, CDN, of Natus Wellness. “Peanuts and tree nuts will always be listed, as they are part of the top eight allergens.”
Reading labels on packaged foods is easy enough, but what about all those tempting plant-based recipes that feature nuts in them? Thankfully, there are at least seven nut substitutes that work well in various applications — a little trial and error with the following ingredients can lead to a wider variety of meal-time options for any vegan with a nut allergy:
Seeds and Seed Butters
“Seed and seed butters are the closest to nuts in nutrient profile and also taste, as they are high in unsaturated fats, protein, and fiber, but low in cholesterol,” says Shaw. Try pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds in place of whole nuts (i.e., in trail mix or salads). For nut butter substitutions, sunflower seed butter (aka sunbutter) is a popular alternative that tastes great as a spread and also works well for baking.
Edamame provides a protein punch, with close to 20 grams per cup. “They are less calorie dense than nuts and seeds as well, due to their lower fat content,” says Jenna Amos, RD, nutrition manager at Freshly. “Dry roasted, they provide a super crunchy snack perfect for trail mix or on their own.”
Cassava flour makes a great alternative to almond flour in paleo and gluten-free baked goods. “It has a similar nutty flavor, and can be swapped 1:1 in place of almond flour in recipes,” says Danielle McAvoy, RD, a registered dietitian with nutritionist-designed and chef-crafted meal delivery service Territory Foods. “Cassava is high in resistant starch, which is a special type of fiber that feeds healthy gut bacteria. It’s also high in vitamin C and other anti-inflammatory compounds.”
Deactivated yeast, or nutritional yeast, is a common substitute for vegan cheese. It also works well for replacing nuts thanks to its umami-forward profile. “Nutritional yeast has a pleasant, nutty taste and makes a great flavorful topping for dishes that would normally contain nuts,” says Shaw.
Loaded with protein and fiber, chickpeas are a filling snack. “When roasted, they have a similar crunch to nuts that are perfect in salads or on their own,” says Amos. “Plus, these are simple to make at home, where you can customize your own spice blends.”
Oat or Pea-Protein Milk
For cooking and baking with non-dairy milk (not to mention drinking straight-up!), reach for pea-protein milk or oat milk. “Ripple, a pea-protein brand, is exceptionally high in protein and a great replacement for nutrients that would normally be offered by animal products and nuts,” says Shaw.
Tempeh is another good alternative for chopped, crumbled, or toasted nuts. “It’s easy to prepare and mild in flavor, so it can be swapped for nuts in a variety of savory recipes or used as a salad topping,” says McAvoy. “Tempeh is packed with protein, fiber, and B vitamins, making it a beneficial food for gut health and energy.”