Having a food allergy can be life altering, and trying to find proper substitutions for common food allergies can seem like a daunting, tiring task. Luckily, the more we learn about food allergies, the more available great substitutions become for those wanting to cook and eat allergen-friendly foods. Many years ago, I discovered I had a dairy, soy, and gluten allergy, along with being highly sensitive to sugar and peanuts. You can imagine how defeated I felt in the kitchen and at the grocery store for a short time. After researching what substitutions were available for me to replace the common ingredients in cooking and baking that contain these problem foods, I began to find that it is actually quite easy and rewarding. If you think you may be sensitive to a food, read these substitutions for common food allergies that are delicious, satisfying and incredibly easy to work with in the kitchen. You don’t have to suffer in pain eating foods that bother you, but you also don’t have to go without nearly identical replications of your favorite foods either.
1. Get out Gluten
Instead of using gluten grains to cook with or bake with such as wheat, wheat flour, white flour, rye, barley or any of their derivatives, try using the mighty quinoa to cook with instead. Quinoa is actually a seed that acts like a grain when you cook it. It puffs up nicely and adds protein, fiber and many vitamins and minerals to your nutrition, all in a ¼ cup serving. You can also buy quinoa flakes to bake with or eat just like you would oatmeal. Gluten-free oats are another wonderful alternative. When it comes to baking, opt for a gluten-free flour blend or make your own by using ground oats, almond flour, brown rice flour, and/or coconut flour. Each of these substitutions work differently, so be sure to research how to use each one before you try them.
2. Ditching Dairy
Dairy is one of the hardest foods for people with allergies or sensitivities to get rid of. Dairy is an addictive food that contains opiates which send endorphins all throughout the body, which leads us to crave dairy even more. This makes eliminating dairy seem like a stressful task and a restriction. Luckily, there are some amazing dairy alternative products out there. My go-to replacement for dairy milk is unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Coconut milk is another great creamy beverage with the same mouth-feel as dairy. In recipes they are interchangeable and provide less sugar, more vitamins and minerals, plus healthy fats that increase your metabolism and won’t hurt your belly or your skin like dairy does. There are also almond milk and coconut yogurt products that make great dairy yogurt substitutions, and even coconut kefir. For cheeses, stick with almond milk based substitutions instead of soy, which can also be highly allergenic. If you need a replacement for butter, try coconut butter or coconut oil. Both have amazing flavors and can be used interchangeably with butter in any recipe.
3. Say No to Soy
Soy is such a controversial food! Many people love it, especially vegans, and soy is actually in almost all processed foods that we eat because it is such a cheap crop to work with. Soy is even in almost all chewing gum! Unfortunately, due to this, some of us become highly sensitive to soy, or even allergic. In my case, it severely affected my thyroid function, leaving me out of breath, on the couch passed out with fatigue, or with horrible stomach pains and bloating that had me bent over in pain too much to walk. At the time, I was drinking soy milk occasionally, eating endamame, and baking with soy flour. When I discovered the link between soy and my low thyroid, I immediately found great substitutions for soy. I now use coconut flour in all my baking recipes and ditched all processed foods that listed soy, or one of its hidden names. I gave up my organic soy milk for almond milk and ditched the endamame in favor of green peas and sugar snap peas. You don’t need soy to get protein if you’re vegetarian. Instead, opt for hemp seeds, chia seeds, and quinoa, which are all high in amino acids and non-allergenic.
4. Not so Sweet Sugar
Sugar is not exactly an allergen, but it is a big problem for a lot of people. Sugar in its refined form causes acne, diabetes, weight gain, heart problems, can contribute to IBS, constipation, epilepsy, and a host of other issues. Luckily, there are more than enough great alternatives for sugar. For low glycemic index (GI) options, choose stevia, which comes from an herb, is not artificial, and contains zero calories. It has no effect on your blood sugar either, which makes it perfect to prevent blood sugar swings. You can also use coconut sugar or nectar, but be advised they do contain some sugar content, though they are higher in minerals and lower in calories than sugar. Stevia comes in liquid and powder form. Some people find it bitter, so I like to go with a quality brand such as NuNaturals or Sweetleaf to get the best taste. Another option is raw local honey. Though it is not lower in calories than sugar, it is full of healthy nutrients and antioxidants in moderate amounts.
5. Pass on the Peanuts
Peanuts are another food I had to give up due to stomach sensitivities. Peanuts are highly allergenic and because they grow near the ground, they are especially supsceptible to mold and fungus overgrowth. Like soy, peanuts are considered a legume, which means they contain both starch and protein. This creates a nightmare for people with sensitive digestive tracts, since carbohydrate and proteins digest differently. This is one reason these foods can lead to gas and bloating in sensitive individuals. Peanuts and soy are both extremely processed foods today, and even in their whole form, the body can mistake them for an allergen due to previous exposure from highly processed foods containing peanuts and soy. Instead of peanuts or peanut butter, opt for almonds and almond butter. They are almost as rich in protein, Vitamin E and fiber, plus they contain magnesium and B vitamins, similar to peanuts. Almonds are actually a seed and much easier to digest than other nuts.
6. Take Away the Tree Nuts
Though I’m not allergic to tree nuts, I know many people who are. This can be a very difficult food to avoid since many substitutions for other allergens, like those above, are made from tree nuts. One of the best substitutions for tree nuts is seeds. Think hemp seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds. The seeds are richer in protein, higher in fiber and lower in calories per serving than nuts are. They are also wonderful sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. You can bake with them, make homemade milks with them just like you would almond milk, and when it comes to buying alternative flours, instead of almond flour, opt for hemp protein powder, chia flour, coconut flour or tapioca flour. Sorghum flour also makes a good alternative to almond flour.
7. Easy on the Eggs
Eggs are one of the most highly allergenic foods of all foods. They are pro-inflammatory and they can cause gout in those sensitive, or stomach discomfort. For those who are actually allergic, they can be a nightmare. Vegans aren’t the only ones who can use egg alternatives in baking, so can those with an egg allergy or sensitivity. When baking, make a chia or flax egg using 2 tbsp. warm water mixed with 1 tbsp. whole chia or flax seeds. This creates a binding effect just like eggs will in a recipe. Though there aren’t any good scrambled egg alternatives, turn to my favorite way to get in my protein at breakfast and make a smoothie with hemp seeds instead. Needless to say, with a cold, creamy beverage in my hand, I don’t miss pulling out the frying pan one bit!
Food allergies can be an underlying issue of multiple health problems. Even though you may not be allergic, sensitivities to a problematic food can be a horrible experience. To find out if you’re allergic or sensitive without formal testing, do an elimination diet eliminating these foods and replacing them with some of the options given above. Most likely, if you suffer digestive discomfort, fatigue, food addictions, headaches and more, you could have a food allergy or sensitivity. Talk with your doctor or health professional to find out more about an elimination diet, or try one at home. Just be sure you get enough nutrition from other foods and don’t replace the problematic foods with junk foods. Do you any of you have a food allergy? If so, what is your favorite substitution?