Being diagnosed with a food allergy or intolerance is often the last thing you want to hear and even just the thought may make your stomach tighten. Sadly, allergies and intolerances are most commonly caused from everyday foods including cows milk, eggs, nuts, seafood, wheat, gluten and food additives. But being diagnosed does not have to be a life sentence for your taste buds and being labelled the difficult one at a dinner party. Today there are plenty of healthy and delicious options making allergy and intolerant friendly foods work for our health and not against.
Intolerance versus Allergies
We may be well versed with the terms food allergy and intolerance, but what actually is the difference?
Food allergies occur when the immune system identifies certain food/s ingested as intruders and overreacts by producing antibodies termed Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies release chemicals causing an allergic reaction. Symptoms may involve skin rash, hives, breathing problems, gastrointestinal upset and usually develop within a few minutes or few hours of ingesting the culprit food. Food allergies can be life threatening and identified foods must be avoided at all costs.
Food intolerances/sensitivities don’t involve the immune system and occur when enzymes needed to breakdown food particles aren’t available. For example lactose intolerance occurs when the body does not have the enzyme lactase, which helps lactose from milk be digested. Enzymes aside, food intolerance can also result from sensitivity to additives (eg MSG) or naturally occurring chemicals in certain foods (eg salicylates in strawberries and tomatoes). Symptoms may be similar to food allergies and usually involve gastrointestinal upset. Thankfully, food intolerances are rarely life threatening and often small amounts of the culprit food can be eaten without incidence.
How to navigate the shopping aisles?
If a food allergy or intolerance has left your shopping cart in a spin lacking direction and unfamiliar territory, below is some practical information to get you headed in the right direction:
Wheat-free & Gluten:
Wheat and gluten intolerance is often likened to a total deprivation of diet liberty, but this doesn’t have to be the case. There are numerous wheat and gluten-free grains and flours available, which taste great and are brimming with nutrients and minerals:
- Wheat & gluten containing (avoid): wheat, spelt, bulgur, couscous, triticale, kamut, oats and rye.
- Wheat & gluten-free: buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, rice, corn, millet, lentils, lupin, teff, sorghum and besan (chickpea) flour.
If out and about and unsure, rice paper rolls or brown rice sushi are safe healthy options, make sure to avoid soy sauce and ask for tamari (wheat-free) instead. If at a salad bar choose roasted vegetable based salads and avoid grain-based salads. When it comes to snacking, brown rice, quinoa or dehydrated vegetable crackers are healthy options.
Often wheat can be “hidden” in products, those to take extra caution include; malt extracts, thickeners, breadcrumbs, sausages, curry powders, batters, salad dressings, liquorice and malt vinegars.
A dairy intolerance is very common and quite noticeable symptoms arise if you do suffer. However, no dairy? No worry! Today there are an array of options available. When scouring the supermarket shelves always opt for good quality, Australian-grown plant based milks. Some top picks include:
- Soymilk: always look out for Australian-grown whole soybeans and if soy milk is new to you, try VITASOY’s Soy Milky which is a great introduction to plant milks. It has a delicious milky taste, is a high quality protein, and is perfect on your cereal or smoothies. When looking for soymilk, avoid soy protein isolate powders.
- Coconut milk: check for no added sugar and opt for “unsweetened”, and contains calcium
- Almond, hazelnut & macadamia nut milk: check for no added sugar and make sure whole nuts are being used, they should be the second if not first ingredient listed. Keep an eye out for products that use Australian grown whole nuts. And as always, look out for nut milks which contain calcium.
- Oat, Rice & Quinoa milk: good option if a dairy and nut allergy or intolerance exists and lower in fat than other milks; check for whole grains being used (e.g. ‘whole brown rice’) and not rice flour, again look out for added sugars, and calcium.
What about calcium & protein?
With dairy off the menu you may feel your bones instantly ache and muscles deflate. However, many plant based milks are a great source of calcium, because they have been enriched with that nutrient. For example, VITASOY offer a calcium-enriched Soy Milky range, high in calcium and one serve has 37% of the recommended daily intake of calcium for adults. When it comes to protein, soymilk is comparable to cow’s milk and contains approximately 7.5g protein per serve.
When peanut paste and almond butter is off the table, it may feel like a mission to find a suitable replacement, however, being a little creative can make a world of difference and have you never looking back:
- Sweet: opt for honey or whipped coconut cream.
- Savoury: opt for hummus, beetroot dip or avocado.
- Snacking: try snacking on coconut flakes, seeds or roasted chickpeas instead of nuts.
Eggs pack a punch when it comes to nutrient dense food options; they are a good source of protein and fats. To overcome the nutrient debt a diet devoid of eggs may cause try:
- Cooking: scrambled tofu or baked/pan-fired tofu in salads or stir-fry’s as a source of protein and healthy fats.
- Baking: mix chia seeds or psyllium with water to mimic the binding action of eggs.
Be a detective
It goes without saying; always check ingredients lists. According to the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code all ingredients have to be listed on labels of pre-packaged foods. When reading labels look out for hidden sources of common allergenic or high sensitivity foods:
- Milk and milk products: non-fat milk solids, whey, casein/caseinates and lactose.
- Eggs and egg products: egg albumen, egg white and egg lecithin or lecithin.
- Wheat/Gluten and wheat products: gluten, wheat-brain/germ/oil, triticum aestivum, bulgur, couscous, duru, farina.
To help you on your way try my Vitasoy Soy Milky smoothie. It has a delicious and creamy milky taste and is high in protein and calcium, which will leave you feeling fuller for longer. Soy Milky is very versatile, perfect for smoothies, poured over cereal or drink it with your breakfast.
Soy & Banana smoothie (serves 1)
- 1 cup VITASOY Soy Milky
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 tbsp quinoa flakes
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tbsp chia seeds
- ice, optional
- Combine all ingredients in a food processer and blend until smooth, enjoy!
Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code 2002 (Cth).
Misselwitz, B et al 2013, ‘Lactose malabsorption and intolerance: pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment,’ United European Gastroenterology, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 151-159.
Robinson, R 2014, ‘Food allergy: Diagnosis, management & emerging therapies,’ Indian J Med Res, Vol. 139, No. 6, pp. 805-813.
Wilder-Smith, C et al 2013, ‘Fructose and lactose intolerance and malabsorption testing: the relationship with symptoms in functional gastrointestinal disorders,’ Aliment Pharmacol Therp, Vol. 37, No. 11, pp. 1074-1083.