The bad news is there are twice as many people suffering from food allergies than there were ten years ago.
The good news is that food manufacturers are catering for these numbers and there are many more alternatives on the market for food allergy sufferers to consume. The bad news is that they are not always a healthy choice.
Enough good and bad news, let’s get on with it! A food allergy is an autoimmune response to components, mostly the protein, found in certain foods. Symptoms can range from mild to medium such as tingling in the mouth, hives and welts, swelling, vomiting and abdominal pain to more severe such as anaphylactic reactions, which can be fatal.
An allergy is quite different to a food sensitivity or intolerance where people suffer from symptoms ranging from irritable bowel, headaches, fatigue and asthma. The degree of discomfort is directly related to how much of the food an individual eats – the more you eat, the worse the symptoms.
With a food allergy, the food must be cut out altogether from the diet, while an intolerance can be managed sufficiently to enable small quantities of the offending food to be tolerated every now and again with no symptoms.
The two main proteins found in milk and considered to be allergens include the proteins casein and whey. Lactose the natural sugar found in milk is the most common cause of an intolerance to dairy.
Milk is an excellent source of protein and calcium necessary for strong healthy bones. When considering a milk alternative look for those that are fortified with calcium.
Some people suffer from soy allergies or sensitivities. There is controversy over soy and its effects on male fertility however studies show soy foods can help to ease menopausal symptoms.
In spite of this the Cancer Council recommends that women with breast cancer avoid soy products. To be palatable most soymilk has added sweetener. Look for calcium fortified soy milk.
Rice is less likely than soy to cause an allergic reaction. Look for calcium fortified rice milk.
Naturally sweet this is a good choice as is has no added sugar. Oat milk is not suitable for people with a gluten allergy since oats contain gluten. Look for calcium fortified oat milk.
Almonds naturally contain some amount of calcium (but not as much as dairy). Almond milk is a delicious natural drink made from ground almonds but compared to low fat milk is high in kilojoules.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, oats, rye and the many foods these grains are used in. They form the basis to most breakfast cereals, cakes, crackers, biscuits and pasta.
Rice is an all time safe favourite. Cooked as a grain, ground into flour or puffed into breakfast cereal, rice is an excellent food for people with both allergies and sensitivities. Rice does have a high GI so people with high blood sugar should avoid jasmine rice and puffed rice and instead choose “clever” rice or basmati.
While this looks and performs like a grain it is actually a seed. It is high in protein and contains a range of other nutrients including calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. Like rice it can be cooked as a grain, ground into flour or puffed or rolled for breakfast cereal.
Quinoa is now available in most major supermarkets and health food stores. It has a low GI and is an excellent choice for people with diabetes.
Available in health food stores, amaranth is high in protein and available puffed or cooked as a grain. It has a nutty taste and ground it can be made into bread, muffins, pasta, biscuits and pancakes.
Ground corn, polenta has a sweet bland taste that usually requires a whole lot of cheese to give it any flavor. It also has a high GI. Use occasionally.
Buckwheat can be bought whole and used like rice. Roasted (also called kasha), buckwheat noodles (soba) and buckwheat flour can all be purchased from health food stores.
Ground chickpea flour (besan) is delicious in savoury short crust pastry.
Millet is a delicious light grain that can be bought whole, to cook like rice , or puffed – served in breakfast cereal. It has a high GI and should be avoided it you are trying to regulate high blood sugar levels.
Nuts are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and good fats While the vitamins and minerals are easy to find elsewhere it’s the good fat found in nuts that needs to be substituted.
Note: Some people who are allergic to nuts may also be allergic to seeds.
If you are able to eat seeds, sesame seeds are a good source of calcium and good fats. Ground sesame seeds (tahini) is an excellent alternative to peanut butter.
Rich in a wide range of nutrients including zinc, sunflower seeds can be sprinkled over salads or added to breakfast cereals to reduce the overall glycemic load.
Flax seeds / flaxseed oil and Chia seeds / chia oil
Both these oils and seeds are an excellent source of plant based short chained omega-3 fatty acids. Sprinkle over fruit at breakfast and use the oil cold to make salad dressings.
Question: What about all the gluten free cakes, biscuits and muffin mixes available in the supermarket? Are they good for you?
Answer: Whether they contain gluten or not, cakes, biscuits and muffins are not particularly good for anyone and should only ever be considered occasional foods.
Gluten free Banana and almond cake.
Egg-free Roasted autumn vegetable barley.
Egg and lactose free Creamy cauliflower and carrot soup.