What to Eat?
The most common question I hear from a person with food allergies when they have just been told that they are allergic to wheat, milk, eggs, corn, soy, yeast, beef, chicken, etc. is “What is left to eat?” It may seem as if all foods have to be eliminated. However, there are many foods available which we do not commonly use. By changing your diet to include these foods, you can eat well and nutritiously. If your food allergies are so severe that even these uncommon foods must be eliminated and your diet is inadequate nutritionally, you must discover and solve the root causes of your allergies (See the “Root of the Problem” menu at the top of this page) and possibly also seek treatment such as low dose immunotherapy rather than have a nutritionally inadequate diet. Starvation is not an option!
If you are allergic to common foods, research foods that you have never eaten before and add them to your diet. Read the food family tables in The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide to start finding out about alternative foods. There are many unusual varieties of produce available in supermarkets and health food stores. To learn how to shop for, store, and cook vegetables and fruits that you may have never tried before, see Easy Cooking for Special Diets. Fruits and vegetables are the most significant sources of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals so eating a wide variety of them is a key to good nutrition for everyone.
The category of foods which often poses the greatest challenge to those with severe food allergies is protein foods. High quality protein is essential for the repairs your body must continually make when you have food allergies. If you are allergic to beef, chicken, turkey, etc., game meats are a good alternative. Game is lower in fat than many “normal” meats and higher in essential fatty acids. Game also does not have the detrimental effect that beef does on your intestinal flora. In spite of its health benefits, some people are reluctant to try game because they expect it to taste “gamey.” Indeed, if your neighbor goes hunting and gives you some game, it may taste gamey because of the way it was handled. Commercial game has a much better flavor than home-hunted game. I detect no wild taste in the commercial game meat that I eat on a near-daily basis.
Game animals live very natural lives. They get plenty of exercise because they do not spend time in feed lots where they cannot move around much, are force fed, and may be given hormones. Therefore, their meat tends to be tougher and less well marbled with fat than most of the meat in your grocery store. Long slow cooking with liquid, such as crock-pot cooking, tenderizes game meat. You can also grind game in your food processor to overcome toughness and use it in casseroles and burgers. If your home-hunted game has a wild taste, rub the frozen meat with salt before you put it in your refrigerator to thaw. Trimming the fat before cooking also reduces the gamey taste.
Dairy products are often missed by people with food allergies. Some people can tolerate goat, sheep, soy, or rice milk. If you are on a rotation diet, be sure to rotate other ingredients in soy and rice milk (such as sweeteners) as well as the soy or rice. In cooking, milk and dairy products can easily be removed from most recipes without causing problems. Just substitute water for milk in baking. If a recipe calls for cheese, you may be able to substitute soy or goat cheese.
Eggs also are not essential for most baking. Although they can important to the texture of baked goods, unless you want to make angel food cake, it is often possible to bake without them. In many recipes, you can eliminate them, substituting 1/4 cup water or other liquid for each extra large egg. If you have problems with this substitution in your recipe, use recipes that were developed to be egg-free, such as those in The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide, Allergy Cooking with Ease, Easy Cooking for Special Diets, and Easy Breadmaking for Special Diets.
Wheat, and grains in general, are more challenging to eliminate from baking recipes than milk and eggs are and, despite the tables you may see, there are no rules (at least not any that work!) for substituting alternative flours for wheat. You usually will need to use recipes developed with specific non-wheat flour. Click on the links at the end of the previous paragraph to find out more about four books with such recipes.
There is a wide variety of grains and grain alternatives available which can be used in place of wheat flour in allergy cooking. The gluten-containing grain flours are the most allergenic for many people. Non-gluten grains may be easier to tolerate. There are also very hypoallergenic non-grain alternative flours for those who are allergic to all grains.
The gluten-containing grain flours include spelt, kamut, rye, barley, oats, and wheat. Among the non-gluten grains are teff, rice, wild rice, millet, milo (also called sorghum or jowar), and corn. Non-grain flours include amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, tapioca, cassava meal, arrowroot, chestnut flour, water chestnut flour, and various legume flours and starches such as garbanzo flour, soy flour, carob powder, lupine flour, bean starch, and kudzu starch. In addition, tropical tubers can be made into flours, such as malanga flour, white sweet potato flour, true yam flour, cassava flour, lotus flour, and others.
Gluten-containing grains make the most “normal” baked goods. Spelt makes wonderful yeast breads. Kamut and rye also make good yeast breads. See Easy Breadmaking for Special Diets for a wide variety of bread recipes, both made with yeast and yeast-free. Baked goods made with barley flour are slightly more crumbly but still have great texture and flavor. The “crumbliness” of barley makes it especially well suited for making tender pie crusts. Oat flour also has a great flavor, although some oat-based baked goods are quite dense, and can occasionally be gummy. Perhaps the most delicious way to bake with oats is in crackers where the denseness is not a problem. For recipes for baking in general, see The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide and Allergy Cooking with Ease.
Use caution when purchasing spelt flour. I have found more variability in spelt flour from different sources than for any other kind of flour. All of the recipes in the books on website were developed using Purity Foods spelt flour. Their flour is milled from a European strain of spelt that is higher in protein than other strains, and produces consistently excellent baked goods. Purity Foods also sells a sifted spelt flour called “white spelt” that you may want to try for normal-appearing and tasting baked goods or if you need to follow a low-fiber diet. If your health food store does not carry Purity Foods flour, click here for information on ordering it. If you cannot get Purity Foods flour and must use another brand, you may need to add more spelt flour to recipes to achieve the right consistency in your non-yeast baked goods. Other brands of spelt flour are not recommended for yeast breads.
Baked goods made with non-gluten grains are more crumbly than those made with the gluten grains. Some people also find rice and teff gritty. Many of the recipes using these flours contain a starch such as arrowroot or tapioca starch for “glue,” but still you have to expect some crumbs and heaviness. Some of the recipes in The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide do not include non-gluten versions because of the fragility of baked goods made with these flours. However, the flavor of the non-gluten grains is excellent. Millet and milo (jowar) have an especially good flavor, and since you have probably rarely eaten them, you may tolerate them better than rice. For a wide variety of recipes made with non-gluten flours, see The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide.
Non-grain flours are surprisingly versatile. Their flavor may take a little getting used to, but you will eventually come to enjoy them. If quinoa is used with apple juice, sesame seeds, or carob, its distinctive flavor will be masked. The recipes in my books made with non-grain flours also usually contain a starch to improve the texture of the final product. Most of the non-grains, especially amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat, when used with a starch, produce an excellent texture in baked goods which is not crumbly at all. However, an occasional batch of amaranth flour might yield gummy baked goods. Amaranth pancakes and yeast breads are especially prone to gumminess. However, if you cannot eat grains, you cannot afford to be too fussy, so when my pancakes or bread turn out gummy, I just toast them until they are crisp. For a wide variety of recipes made with non-grain flours, see The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide.
Although they are expensive, flours make from tropical tubers such as malanga flour, white sweet potato flour, true yam flour, cassava flour, lotus flour can be lifesavers for the severely allergic. Click here to visit the “Special Foods” website and find out more about these flours.
Sweeteners and leavening ingredients can also be a challenge to those with food allergies. If you have Candida problems and are on a low-yeast diet, you might wish to try the herb stevia as a sweetener. See The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide and Allergy Cooking with Ease, for stevia-sweetened baking recipes.
If you have to avoid yeast, breads, muffins, crackers, and other non-yeast baked goods may be leavened with a mixture of baking soda and unbuffered vitamin C powder to avoid corn- and aluminum-containing baking powders. Refer to The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide, Allergy Cooking with Ease and Easy Breadmaking for Special Diets. for yeast-free baking recipes leavened in this way. As in flour substitutions, it is better to use a recipe developed for this type of leavening than to try to substitute it in a recipe that calls for baking powder because baking powder is slower-acting than baking soda plus vitamin C.
Although the best way – and sometimes the only way – to control your diet as carefully as you should is to cook your food “from scratch,” many health food stores carry commercially prepared baked goods and other foods that you may be able to eat. READ THE LABELS carefully and don’t assume that because a certain food was O.K. the last time you bought it, it is still O.K. Check to be sure the manufacturer has not changed the ingredients since the last time you shopped! For further information on commercially prepared foods that you may be able to eat, see the chapter called “Using Commercially Prepared Foods” in The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide. This chapter contains an extensive list of foods with ingredient lists and the addresses, phone numbers, and websites of the companies that make them.
For more about cooking for yourself (Yes, you CAN do it!) click here.
The information on this page is abridged from
The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide ($24.95, eBook $13) © 2007
Allergy Cooking with Ease ($19.95, eBook $10) © 2007
Easy Cooking for Special Diets ($24.95, eBook $13) © 2007
For more information about these books, click on the book's title above.
To order any of the books mentioned on this page, click here.