Allergies and Vegetarians

Food Allergy Tips for Vegetarians

If you’ve got a food allergy or intolerance, your diet is, of course, restricted through no choice of your own. But if you’re also a vegetarian, you know that combining multiple restricted diets can be a challenge. A common concern is whether a vegetarian diet meets all of the nutritional needs if the person is also allergic to certain foods. The answer is — it depends on the food allergen. Dairy and eggs, for instance, are excluded in conventional vegan diets, yet many food allergic vegans still eat healthy, varied diets.

Here is a list of the basic vegetarian categories.

  • Vegans eat no animal products nor use anything with animal by-products in them.
  • Raw Vegans follow the vegan diet above, but eat only food that has not been heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius).
  • Pescetarians are vegetarians who also eat fish.
  • Vegetarians (lacto-ovo vegetarians), are vegetarians who also eat dairy and eggs.
  • Flexitarians or (semi-vegetarians) are vegetarians who occasionally eat meat.
  • Macrobiotic vegetarians use only unprocessed vegan food and some fish, no sugar or refined oils and Asian sea vegetables including seaweed.

Vegetarian foods that cause allergies can include grains, nuts, legumes and even some fruits and vegetables. Since vegans don’t consume any animal associated products, including eggs, dairy, and poultry, finding nutritional and allergy-free diets can be a challenge. Avoiding dairy products in packaged goods can also be a problem. Soy is another food that is often hidden in many products and since it is often a source of protein for vegetarians, it’s important to read the labels carefully.

Proteins are essential for cell repair, growth and development, so vegetarians, especially vegans, must find protein in non-meat foods. Most foods, even green vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, contain at least a small amount of protein. But some foods — meat, dairy products, seafood, legumes, and some grains — are much denser sources than others. Protein is one of the most common initial concerns of people beginning a vegetarian diet, but in fact your body’s protein needs are generally easy to meet with plant sources. Here’s a list of daily protein requirements based on age and grams per body weight:

          Age        Daily Protein Per Pound of Body Weight
        4-6        .50 grams
        7-14        .45 grams
        15-18        .40 grams
        Girls over 15        .36 grams (same as adults)
        Boys over18        .36 grams (same as adults)

Most people, even vegetarians, meet and even exceed their protein needs without even thinking about it. A few common allergens, however, are so frequently used as vegetarian proteins that they deserve special consideration.

Soy, in the form of tofu and tempeh, is a vegetarian staple. You’ll find it in packaged vegetable broths, meal substitute bars, frozen meals, and as protein-rich “soy nuts” or “soy nut butter.” If you’re allergic to soy, it is possible to get adequate protein, but you’ll need to be sure to plan your meals to get adequate daily protein. You’ll also find that many prepared vegetarian foods, especially dairy substitutes, are off-limits. You’ll need to avoid meat substitutes, which are generally made from soy (some are made from wheat; always check labels).

The other food most commonly used as a direct substitute for meat is wheat. It’s sometimes sold as patties and used in vegetarian chili. Wheat is also a common binder in legume-based vegetarian burgers. Peanuts and tree nuts are sometimes used to make vegetarian burgers, though they’re not common meat substitutes.

Wheat is the only grain among the “big eight” most common food allergens, and it is used in vegetarian diets as both a grain and protein source. Pasta, couscous, bread, and many cereals are among the foods off-limits to vegetarians with wheat allergies. However, largely due to the increase in people being diagnosed with these conditions, there are excellent substitutes on the market for almost any wheat-based food imaginable. In young children, allergy to multiple grains is generally uncommon (approximately 20%).

Grains that are safe for people with wheat allergies include:

Amaranth                    Arrowroot

Buckwheat                  Corn

Millet                         Oats (gluten-free are best)

Quinoa                       Wild Rice

Tapioca                      Teff (an Ethiopian grain)

If you follow a vegetarian diet, consider planning your meals ahead at least some of the time, to ensure you’re eating a variety of foods and that you’re getting enough of the nutrients you’ll be missing in the foods you cannot eat.

You might try making a list of foods you’d like to add to your diet and cooking one or two a week. This is a good way to ease into eating new grains or vegetables without overwhelming yourself with new tastes. And remember to take time to carefully read food labels.

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APNT Team

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