Ask Kathy: Can I "Go Veg" with my Food Allergies?

Food Allergies. Over 12 million Americans, over 1 million in the UK and 10 million in India suffer from food allergies. 150 people, mostly children, die in the US each year from anaphylaxis due to a food allergy. So it's not just vegans and vegetarians that have to read those labels, food allergies affect everyone. Studies show that up to 90 percent of food allergies come from the following foods: cow’s milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nut (e.g., almonds, walnuts, and pecans), fish and crustacean shellfish.

Going Veg with Food Allergies.
Possible? I received this question from a blog reader: "Over the past few years, I've considered becoming a vegetarian on more than one occasion....But I am concerned about how this would work when I'm allergic to soy, eggs and nuts....From what I've read, I think it's possible to give up meat, but I'm just not sure where to start. Can you offer me any suggestions for converting to a veggie lifestyle?..." From Crystal
Check out my food ideas and advice for Crystal..

Living with food allergies can be a stressful and daunting experience. More so than a 'chosen' restricted diet, because you really have no choice over the foods that you can and cannot eat. A peanut lover who is allergic to nuts is a sad sad thing. So imagine wanting to go vegan or vegetarian when you already have a frustratingly restricted diet? Is it possible? Is it a good idea?

Here is Crystal's full question and my full answer:

"Hello Kathy, I have to say, your column about dealing with waiters and kitchens who don't always listen to your requests for your food order is what convinced me to write to you. I'm a life-long allergy sufferer who is severely allergic to seafood. As in, I eat it, I get an immediate trip to the ER. Eating out is quite a challenge at new places, and I've experienced the same apathy you have in dealing with wait staff who just don't get it. I've had to learn, it's OK to be forceful when we're talking about my life.

Over the past few years, I've considered becoming a vegetarian on more than one occasion. I'm just plain tired of meat in general. But I am concerned about how this would work when I'm allergic to soy, eggs and nuts. My soy and egg allergies are not severe, but I still try to avoid eating them when I can. The nut allergy encompasses tree nuts and peanuts - I'm not sure of the severity of this allergy - I just avoid them all together. From what I've read, I think it's possible to give up meat, but I'm just not sure where to start. Can you offer me any suggestions for converting to a veggie lifestyle? Especially when I seem to be allergic to most of the mainstream vegetarian protein sources.

I just want to make sure I'm being smart in my choices. Any advice?

Thank you, Crystal"


My Answer:
Hi Crystal! First of all, you are not alone. You may have seen Zooey Deschanel on Top Chef Masters last season. She is a vegan who can't eat soy or gluten! And the meals that were created for her were amazing. So my answer: It is absolutely possible for you to go vegetarian on your restricted diet. Although, I can understand why you are already expressing frustration about your food options - being allergic to soy in our "soy saturated" veggie world is a tough challenge..at first glance anyways.

It's true, about ten years ago, the only mainstream alternative to protein/dairy and meat seemed to be soy! Soy milk, soy 'meats' and tofu seemed to be a veg-eaters best friend. But if you take a peek at the shelves of Whole Foods or any progressive 'natural foods' store, you'll find a plethora of options and food combos available to fit almost any diet. It's just a matter of finding your faves and learning to love them!

Your restrictions:
* No meat
* Dairy -not allergic. Although you'll find you don't need it.
* No Nuts
* No Soy
* No Eggs

A few pluses:
*You CAN eat Wheat and Gluten
*You CAN eat any fruits and veggies (no produce allergies)

Step One: See a doctor who specializes in food allergies. You will want to sort out your specific food allergies before you experiment with any new or exotic foods.

For Protein. I understand your first concern is protein, here's what I recommend:
*Peas
*Lentils
*Seitan products (Wheat-Meat) (Grain-Meat sausage pictured at right)
*Hemp products
*alternatives to soymilk: grain milk, rice milk, hemp milk, coconut milk beverage
-note: coconut milk beverage refers to So Delicious brand, NOT coconut milk in a can.
*Bulgar
*Oats
*Brown Rice
*Rice and Beans combo
*Amaranth
*Millet
*Quinoa grain - whole (pictured at right)
*Quinoa pasta
*Quinoa bread
*Soy-free Rice Cheese (Galaxy Foods)
*Whole Corn
*Spelt
*Seeds-sunflower
*Hummus
*Beans (all except soy)

Fruits and Veggies.
You are lucky because you can eat them all! Here are a few reminders of super food fruits and veggies..
*Acai
*Spinach
*Watercress
*Kale
*Carrots
*Sweet Potatoes
*Avocado
*Corn
*Apples
*Berries
*Mushrooms
*Herbs
*Citrus
*Papaya
*Bananas
*Tomatoes
...and on and on and on...

Putting it all together. So you go shopping, and what next? Here are a few menu ideas.

Quinoa pasta with spicy marinara sauce, sauteed mushrooms and garlic baked wheat crusty bread. A side green salad with garbanzo beans, kidney beans, carrots, corn and citrus slices.

Seitan! Seitan sausage, seitan sandwiches, seitan skewers, seitan in pasta seitan in salads. Seitan is wheat-meat that is high in protein and delicious. A million ways to serve it.

Seitan Sausage Flatbread.


Seitan Sausage Spicy Pappardelle Pasta. Minus the pine nuts if needed.

Lentil Veggie Soup.

Hummus, falafel, whole wheat pita. Whole wheat couscous tabouli salad.

Pizza topped with roasted veggies. Salad of greens, peas and fresh fruit. Sweet potato mash on side.

Creamy bean soups. Whole bean soups.

Bean dips.

Quinoa 'risotto'.

Rice milk and granola.

Brown rice and beans, corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa, corn cake.

Veggie burger made from beans, grains and/or lentils.

Veggie Paella.

Pasta with rice cheese Parmesan.

Hummus veggie whole wheat pita.

"Sunshine Burgers" great brand of rice/sunflower based veggie burgers. Soy free.

Sunflower butter and jam sandwiches. Chocolate hemp milk.

Whole Grain Oatmeal with fresh fruit, toast and chai tea (with hemp, rice, coconut or grain milk).

Those are just a few ideas to get you started...

I hope I've given you some hope.
There may be a lot of foods you can't eat, but there are many more delicious foods that you CAN eat. The trick is to pick out your "staple" food items that you love and get creative with how you prepare them. It really is about making a switch from meat, to things like beans, grains and lentils. Experiment with some of the more innovative soy-free products on the market and I think you will be pleasantly surprised. And in general, I'd advise you to check out my "Vegan Essentials Grocery Shopping" list. Cross off all the foods that contain soy, and you will be on a great path.

Mainstream. Luckily food brands and even restaurants like the Babycakes NYC brand, are taking the topic of food allergies into the mainstream! Babycakes was one of the first bakeries to really latch onto the fact that food allergies matter! Especially when bringing cupcakes to a classroom full of kids....lucky kids if they get food-allergy-sensitive Babycakes!

...Oh, and since you DO currently eat dairy, you can certainly add that to your diet as well. But just check out all the non-dairy options for milk and cheese! I would love you to try non-dairy for just a week and see how you feel.

Good luck Crystal.
I would of course advise you to see a doctor who specializes in food allergies so that you can sort out what exactly you are allergic to and how sever the allergies are. You may also uncover a few allergies you didn't even know existed! When trying new foods and 'allergy prone' a trip to your doctor should be step number one.

Let me know if you need and specific recipe advice.

If you have a question for my "Ask Kathy" series, send it to Kathy (at) Lunchboxbunch (dot com). Subject line "Ask Kathy".




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