A Guide To A Plant-Based Diet With Food Allergies
Committing to a specific diet can be intimidating. A lifestyle plagued by rules and the inevitable guilt that comes from slipping up and eating something outside of a diet’s guidelines is not the most appealing. And for those with food allergies or sensitivities, eating is already a policed activity in which food label reading is a necessary hassle.
However, the plant-based diet is more forgiving than most. According to a recent study by OnePoll in conjunction with So Delicious Dairy Free, 59% of Americans are now eating plant-based meals at least once a day, because of its ease. Plant-based generally denotes a diet based on plants, but not necessarily all-plant, vegetarian, or vegan. The definition is still flexible. While some use the ‘plant-based’ term to label their 100% plant diet, others use it but still eat small amounts of animal products.
Neal Barnard, MD, founder of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, promotes a plant-based diet and lifestyle as a means for preventing and reversing diabetes. When it comes to navigating the diet with food allergies, he said, “One of the benefits of following a plant-based diet is that there aren’t many labels to read if you’re basing your diet around whole and minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, oats, rice, sweet potatoes, beans, and other healthy staples.”
Dr. Barnard also pointed out that it is common observation that when people go vegan, allergies often improve. There is no clear research to correlate a plant-based diet to allergy relief, but the Center for Nutritional Studies says a high-fiber diet keeps gut lining healthy and lowers to risk of allergic reactions to foods ingested. So if one’s plant-based diet is also high-fiber, it could help alleviate allergies and their symptoms. Even if this is not the case, Dr. Barnard added, “A plant-based diet is a powerful way to achieve good health, whether you want to lose weight, cut your cholesterol, tackle type 2 diabetes, get an extra edge in sports, or feel more energetic.”
If you are considering a plant-based diet or curious about how it could work for you, here’s a guide to all the plant-based goodness you can eat while avoiding your offending allergen.
If You Are Allergic To:
Being plant-based probably seems impossible. With all of the widespread soy products — soy milk, soy yoghurts, tofu, tempeh, etc. — soy is often the first plant protein to come to mind and one of the most common for those on a plant-based diet. But there is no need to feel intimidated! In actuality, soy is far from the only plant-based protein option.
Nuts, grains, and seeds are great alternative protein sources. Quinoa, like soy, is a complete protein — meaning it contains all essential amino acids. It is also similarly high in protein, containing 8 grams for every cooked cup. If you want to take it one step further, look for amaranth. Amaranth is an ancient grain with 9 grams of protein per cup.
You should be cautious of processed meat-alternatives such as plant patties. The trendy Impossible Burger, which is being adopted by several fast-food joints nationwide, is made with soy and potato proteins. Morningstar, Gardein, Upton’s and Boca Burger products are also made with soy protein. However, the competing Beyond Burger and Lightlife Burger are safe for you, as they are made using pea proteins.
There is plenty of nut alternatives for you! “If you’re allergic to nuts, you’ll want to skip the almond milk,” said Dr. Barnard. “But the dairy aisle is now packed with dozens of other choices, like rice milk and oat milk—even banana milk and quinoa milk.” Be wary of vegan foods made with milk though, since nut milks are such popular dairy substitutes.
As you are likely already used to, always check food packaging. Some products are manufactured in facilities that use nuts and even trace amounts could trigger an allergic reaction.
Otherwise, pack your diet with grains, oats, legumes, and seeds. Seeds can easily be used in place of nuts in most recipes. Moreover, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and others are excellent sources of protein and unsaturated fats.
Look out for plant-based products using pea proteins — such as Beyond Meat, Dr. Praeger’s, Daiya, and Follow Your Heart. As Beyond Meat warns on their website, “Peas are legumes. People with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy.”
But if the peanut is the only legume wreaking havoc in your life, join forces with the others. Beans and lentils are protein-packed and have your back!
You will need to avoid meat-alternatives made from seitan, which is made from gluten. Fortunately, there are alternatives that do not use gluten or wheat at all. Largely due to the increase of people being diagnosed with wheat allergies and celiac disease, there are countless products that are both plant-based and gluten-free.
When using flours, opt for almond, chickpea, quinoa, teff, or cassava flours. All of these have an added benefit of being more protein rich than wheat flour. Teff, a fine grain, has 7 grams of protein in just a quarter cup. It can be ground into flour to make delicious breads, pancakes, or any baked good that flour calls for. Cassava flour which is soft, powdery, and neutral in flavor is especially good at mimicking wheat flour.
Other grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa are likely your close friends and should continue to be on a plant-based diet. You should also befriend legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, tofu/tempeh, and most plant-based milks.
Since seeds make such wonderful substitutes for nuts, it is not uncommon to find them as tertiary ingredients in processed foods. They can even be used in place of soy; Pumfu makes a soy-free tofu from pumpkin seeds. This will make label reading especially integral on your plant-based diet.
If you stick with whole foods, you will find everything you need in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes.
The old reliable fruits and vegetables should not be blown over. Allergic reactions to fruits and vegetables are usually mild and can be avoided by cooking. Fruits and vegetables are also not typical hidden ingredients in processed foods. If cooperative with your allergies, they can provide the essential micronutrients and antioxidants for proper health. Some, such as jackfruit, cauliflower, and eggplant, even do surprisingly well when standing in for meat in recipes.
Navigating a plant-based diet with food allergies is not a walk in the park. But neither is any healthy or sustainable diet. The good news is that it is feasible and can be made easy with a little preparation.
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