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Word is spreading: Allergy sufferers going nuts for Fargo's SunButter

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When it comes to ranking the foods nut allergy sufferers miss out on the most – peanut butter must be right up there.

But thanks to the innovation of a Fargo company, millions of children and adults across the country have what may be the next best thing: SunButter.

From its humble beginnings in Fargo over a decade ago, the peanut butter substitute developed by Red River Commodities has since – forgive me – spread across the nation. It's now sold in 17,000 stores, InForum reports.

Although creating SunButter has proved a savvy business move, vice president Dan Hofland told the newspaper there were emotional and scientific angles to it as well, with initial development supported by the United States Department of Agriculture.

"As I talked to these parents who have children with peanut allergies and the issues they deal with and the emotion that goes through it and how much people in the United States love peanut butter, it became bigger than just a job," he said.

The spread is made from the seeds from sunflowers grown in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota, which reduces the risk of cross contamination as peanuts can't grow in these three states, the SunButter website notes.

It has proved particularly popular in schools that have taken peanut butter off the menu in response to nut allergies, with InForum reporting more than 13,500 school districts now offer it as part of their menu – and the number is growing.

That includes a school in Maine, which now has SunButter and jelly sandwiches, the Portland Press Herald reports.

The product has been described as a "lifesaver" for nut allergy suffers by the National Sunflower Association, which notes that it has similar nutritional value to peanut butter, with similar protein, more fiber and iron, less saturated fat and less sodium.

Nut allergies on the rise

In 2003, a study by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York found that the number of children reporting peanut or tree nut allergies doubled between 1997 and 2002.

By 2008, it had tripled compared to 1997 figures, with Food Allergy Research and Education estimating that 3 million Americans suffer from nut allergies.

Nut allergy sufferers are at risk of anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction, the New York Times notes, with other reactions including itchiness, swelling of the tongue and throat, a constricted airway, a drop in blood pressure, fainting, or vomiting.

UCLA has suggested that delaying the introduction of certain solid foods, such as peanut, into children's diets may be a reason why allergies are rising.

How nuts are prepared may also play a role – with roasted more likely to cause a reaction than boiled nuts, UCLA says, and a greater awareness and reporting of allergies may also be behind the rise.

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