Dietary Substitutions For Food Allergy

Clearing the cupboards of the foods that ail you doesn’t condemn you to a lifetime of rice cakes and distilled water. The world offers an abundance of tasty and nutritional substitutes for the most common troublesome foods, and the food industry is pumping out more variations each year.

As you search for a replacement for a food, always make sure that the replacement does not contain small amounts of that food or another food that you are allergic to. Also be aware that many companies produce the substitute food on the same equipment as the food you are trying to avoid, such as the soy ice cream on the real ice cream equipment or soy nut butter on the peanut butter equipment.

Food manufacturers are beginning to get the message about the seriousness and rising incidence of peanut allergies. Nestlé, for example, now has an entire product line of peanut-free snacks, manufactured in a peanut-free environment, and clearly labeled as peanut free.

The Soy-Nut Butter Company manufactures a peanut-free, tree-nut-free product, cleverly called Soynut-Butter. And several companies produce tree-nut butters, including cashew and almond butter, and spreads made out of sunflower seeds.

You can satisfy your craving for peanuts with tree nuts, but people who are allergic to peanuts are commonly allergic to tree nuts, as well. You don’t want to risk triggering another allergy by pursuing a substitute, so check with your allergist first to assess the risk.

Some people find sunflower seeds or roasted soybeans or chick peas to be a suitable substitute, and they’re less likely to cause a reaction in those with peanut allergies. Before trying a peanut or peanut butter substitute, read the label carefully to make sure it doesn’t contain peanuts or other ingredients you’re sensitive to, and always check with your allergist first.

When you’re allergic to milk, seeing celebrities and athletes with milk mustaches asking you if you “Got milk?” is probably not all that appealing, and it doesn’t have to be. Although milk is packed with calcium and fortified with vitamin D, so are a host of other beverages and foods, including rice milk, soy milk, oat milk, potato milk, and calcium-fortified juices, cereals, and breads.

Your allergist and nutritionist can recommend other nutritional alternatives. Ice cream and yogurt lovers rejoice! You don’t have to give up these tasty treats. Health food stores and specialty markets typically carry several milk-free products to cater to customers who have milk allergy or are lactose intolerant. Try several products until you find one or more you like.

Remember, however, that products manufactured solely for those who are lactose-intolerant are not safe alternatives for people with milk allergy — lactosefree products often contain the milk protein that triggers reactions. To replace milk in recipes, substitute 1 cup of milk with 3⁄4 to 1 cup water, fruit juice, soy milk, or rice milk.

Because substitutes are more watery than milk, try using less of the substitute and adding 3 tablespoons of canola oil to make up for the loss of fat. Products labeled as dairy free often contain milk. Go figure. Read the labels carefully before trying any of these products. When in doubt, scratch the item off your grocery list.

Your grocery’s dairy section is no doubt packed with butter substitutes, including margarine, but be careful, because many margarines contain milk solids. If you’re looking for something to spread on your toast, consider using olive, sesame, or canola oil and either spreading it or spraying it on your bread.

You can spice up the oil with seasonings to improve the taste. Health food stores also carry spreads made of tahini (sesame) and sunflower seed oil that may be suitable replacements, as long as you’re not allergic to those seeds.

Margarines, cooking oils, and vegetable shortening are also suitable substitutes for butter in baking, assuming the products don’t contain milk solids or other food items that trigger your reactions.

For cheese connoisseurs, soy-and rice-based cheese substitutes don’t quite stack up to a slice of Swiss or a chunk of cheddar, but people who are allergic to milk often find a suitable substitute in soy- or rice-based cheese products. Kids who grow up eating cheese substitutes don’t even miss the “real thing,” because they’ve never had it, and many adults quickly acquire a taste for it.

Some people love this stuff simply because they can use it to make pizzas and macaroni and cheese. Not all cheese substitutes are created equal. Try several products to find the ones you like, and try them in different recipes. Just be sure to read the labels carefully and weed out any products that contain traces of milk.

For those who can’t stomach cheese substitutes, try eating something else entirely. If you’re not allergic to sesame seeds, try spreading hummus on your crackers and bread instead of cheese. Hummus is primarily made up of garbanzo beans and tahini (a sesame seed spread).

Other replacements for cheese spreads include tofu; paté; and Taramasalata — a Greek sandwich filling made with fish, roe, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Taramasalata often contains bread crumbs, so if you have a wheat allergy, consider mixing up your own batch, without the bread crumbs.

True chocolate allergies are rare. If you react to chocolate, you’re more likely intolerant of it or something else (like milk or egg) in the product may be triggering the reaction. In such cases, eating a product that has pure chocolate or cocoa, as long as it doesn’t have milk or eggs, is safe.

Baking (also called cooking) chocolate is typically pure chocolate. Almost all grocery stores also carry cocoa powder for baking. Cocoa is chocolate with most of the cocoa fat removed. If you have a chocolate intolerance, you can substitute cocoa in most recipes with carob or carob powder.

Use 11⁄2 to 2 times as much carob as cocoa. You can also purchase carob chips to use in place of chocolate chips in cookies and muffins. If you have a peanut or tree nut allergy. always read the fine print on the package to make sure the chocolate or chocolate substitute is safe — meaning it doesn’t contain peanuts or tree nuts.

Fake Egg Mixture

When you’re allergic to eggs, you have to scrape sunny-side up and over-easy off your breakfast menu. Commercial egg substitutes, which are usually designed to lower cholesterol, often include egg whites, so be careful. I recommend a product called Egg Replacer from Ener-G Foods.

You can learn more about it by calling (800) 331-5222. When you’re baking, eggs are fairly easy to replace. Try the following substitutions:

  • Substitute 1⁄2 mashed banana for 1 egg in cake recipes. Bananas are a pretty good binding agent; that is, they help the other ingredients stick together.
  • Replace each egg in the recipe with 1⁄4 cup of applesauce. Applesauce is another good binding agent.
  • Mix 1 tablespoon of gelatin or fruit pectin with 3 tablespoons of water. (Use immediately before the mixture congeals.)
  • Use 1 tablespoon of corn starch or arrowroot powder per egg along with 3 tablespoons of water to dissolve the powder. This works well for recipes that need a little leavening.
  • Mix 1⁄4 teaspoon xanthan gum with 1⁄4 cup of water and let stand for about five minutes. You can then whip this like an egg.

When shopping for dairy-free and egg-free products, look for products labeled “Vegan,” and check the label to confirm the absence of milk and eggs. Vegans are strict vegetarians who avoid not only meat but also any animal products, including milk, cheese, and eggs.

Wheat-Free Breads

Bread is the staple of many a western diet, but for those who are allergic or intolerant of wheat products, most breads spell misery. Fortunately, wheat doesn’t have a monopoly on the bread industry. Several companies bake breads out of rice, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”), amaranth, buckwheat, potato, and other grainy, starchy stuff.

Common products include the following:

  • Rye bread or rye crackers: Some rye breads and crackers contain wheat flour, so you may need to check with the manufacturer to make sure the product is 100 percent rye. (Many people who have wheat allergies are also allergic to rye, so rye may not be an option.)
  • Gluten-free breads: Most gluten-free breads are made with a combination of rice, soy, and other types of non-wheat flours.
  • Oat cakes: Delicatessens, health food stores, and upscale grocery stores often carry oat cakes, but if you’re allergic to milk, make sure the oat cakes are entirely milk-free, as well.
  • Rice cakes: Most grocery stores carry rice cakes and typically shelve them in the cereal aisle. They’re a little on the dry and crunchy side, but a little jam or other spread can make them quite tasty.

Grocery stores often shelve their wheat-free breads and other healthy stuff in a separate section, which is great for those of us with food allergies. If your local grocery isn’t in tune with the times, you may have to visit a specialty market or health food store.

Wheat-Free Cereals

Wheat-based cereals rule the cereal aisle, but plenty of alternatives are also available, including corn flakes, puffed rice or rice flakes, kasha (buckwheat), porridge oats, rolled oats, millet flakes, or quinoa flakes. For hot cereals, try oatmeal or brown rice cereals, grits (basically corn meal), or millet. Some of these cereals can be a little on the dry side.

Try letting the milk (or soy or rice milk) soak in a little longer, or add more liquid or raisins, chopped apples, or bananas to moisten it. Before eating any cereal advertised as being made from a grain other than wheat, check the label for any trace amounts of wheat and if you have any lingering doubts, contact the manufacturer.

Wheat-Free Flour

Because so many bakery products contain wheat, many people with wheat allergies choose to bake their own breads. You can find a host of wheat-free and gluten-free flours and flour mixtures at just about any health food or specialty food store, or you can make your own mixture. Here are a couple suggestions:

  • Mix 2 parts brown rice flour 1 part soy flour and 1 part tapioca flour. Substitute 1 cup mixture for 1 cup wheat flour. (You may need to add more liquid to your recipe, because rice flour tends to soak up more moisture than does wheat flour.)
  • Mix 6 parts white rice flour with 2 parts potato starch and 1 part tapioca flour. Substitute 1 cup mixture for 1 cup wheat flour. (You may need to add more liquid to your recipe, because rice flour tends to soak up more moisture than does wheat flour.)
  • Substitute 11⁄3 cup ground rolled oats or 11⁄8 cups oat flour for a cup of wheat flour.

Many wheat- and gluten-free flours and mixtures include their own recipes and instructions for using the flour as a substitute in your other recipes. Baking powders also contain trace amounts of wheat. To make your own substitute, blend 1⁄3 cup baking soda with 2⁄3 cup cream of tartar and 2⁄3 cup potato or arrowroot starch and store it in an airtight container.

When most chefs want to thicken their gravies, soups, and stews, they reach for wheat flour or corn starch, but if you have a wheat or corn allergy, these options end up on the chopping block. Fortunately several thickening agents work nearly as well, including the following:

  • Sago flour
  • Tapioca
  • Arrowroot
  • Rice flour
  • Potato flour or starch

To thicken stews, soups, and gumbos, try using okra. Okra works better as a thickening agent if you grind it up or cook it thoroughly before adding it to the pot.