This week Diana asks about tips for living with allergens:
What tips do you have for someone who needs to remove a food allergen (gluten, dairy, eggs, etc) from their diet?
Oh my! Can I ever remember how overwhelming it was when I found out I had to eat a gluten free diet for health reasons. I had no idea what exactly that meant, just that I had an intolerance to gluten, sometimes called a gluten enteropathy. I decided to just jump right in and do it, and learn as much as I could about the condition, what caused it, and what things I could and could not eat. One of the best pieces of advice I got from anyone in the beginning is “Don’t focus on what you can’t have. Focus on what you CAN have.” Going into a new way of eating for your health can be a very positive experience, in that while you are learning all about the new and yummy things you CAN have, your body is healing and feeling better than it has in years because of it.
The very first thing you should do is educate yourself on the the particular allergy or intolerance that you have.
There many books available these days for those with just about any allergy or intolerance you can think of. You don’t have to buy all the books, either. Ask your library to buy it or borrow it from another library. You can ask your doctor to recommend a book or two, ask online in a forum about that particular allergy or intolerance which books would be good information, or do a google search to read as much as you can about the allergy or intolerance you or members of your family have. After you have educated yourself, start to educate other family members, friends, and teachers.
You should also learn the difference between an allergy and an intolerance.
When you have an allergy to something, for instance, it can be deadly immediately if you eat it. An intolerance won’t kill you, but it might make miserable for a few hours or days.
Learn all the different names a food ingredient can be called.
Because the only thing I omit from my diet is gluten, that is the only thing I can address with confidence that I am giving correct information. However, a lot of the things I am going to say can also be applied to any change in diet for health reasons. More and more companies are labeling their products gluten free, but gluten can be called many names by the food industry. They don’t just say gluten on the label. So, unless the product actually says Gluten Free on the label, it is important to the know all the names it can go by on a food label. The following list comes from WebMD , and may not even be complete, of the different names that gluten can have on a food label:
Barley (flakes, flour, pearl)
Breading and bread stuffing
Durum (type of wheat)
Farro/Faro (also known as spelt)
Hydrolyzed wheat protein
Kamut (a type of wheat)
Malt, malt extract, malt syrup, and malt flavoring
Matzoh, matzoh meal
Modified wheat starch
Oatmeal, oat bran, oat flour, and whole oats (unless they are from pure, uncontaminated oats)
Rye bread and flour
Seitan (A meat-like food derived from wheat gluten used in many vegetarian dishes)
Spelt (A type of wheat also known as farro or faro, dinkel)
Triticale Wheat bran
Wheat flour Wheat germ
Learn how to cook without_______
So, you have educated yourself about your specific allergy or intolerance, and learned all the names the substance may be called on a product label. The next step, if you have to exclude things like wheat or eggs or milk, is to learn how to cook without them. This can be as simple as buying a different brand, buying a mix instead of cooking from scratch, or by checking out cookbooks from the library that were written especially for the allergen or intolerance you are dealing with. It is not always easy to relearn how to cook, and while you are learning your family and friends will feel like guinea pigs. Don’t give up, though, and when you find that perfect combination, write it down right away before you forget what you did. It can be trial and error finding the best tasting replacements, or the best combination of flours to use, to make a decent cake,or batch of cookies. With gluten free flours, you have to find the one that responds best for the use, such as which one makes the best gravy? Which one makes the best pancakes? Which one makes the best breading? It is not all one thing does all the jobs that wheat used to do. I have a page where I wrote about my favorite products and what I use each one for.
There are many good websites that have recipes for people like us who have to omit certain things from their diet for health reasons. I have good results with googling for whatever it is I want to cook with “gluten free recipe”. And, I love a magazine called Living Without. It is loaded with recipes that are nutritious, delicious, and allergy free.
Acknowledge that there will be times when everything you have done to become allergen free will not be enough.
You will still have those times when you ingest the offending substance. Be prepared for those times. If you have a life threatening allergy, carry an epi-pen with you at all times. All the education, all the diligence in the world, will not keep you completely safe from the things that are harmful to you. Being prepared for those times will help the event less stressful. Also, acknowledge that not every server in a restaurant will know what gluten free means. It it ultimately up to YOU to ask questions about the food you are ordering, to understand what is in it. If all there is on the menu that I can eat is a chef salad, then that is what I order.
If the person with the allergy or intolerance is your child, include them in the learning process, no matter how young they may be.
I have a friend whose granddaughter was diagnosed with Celiac Disease when she was four. They include the little girl in the very first shopping trip for gluten free items, and told her it was her special food to make her tummy feel better. Lexi was so excited to be feeling better, that she proudly told everyone about her special foods. She seldom has times when she gets glutened, because she understands that it is what she was eating that was making her feel bad. This child is learning to cook gluten free from the first moment she is allowed in the kitchen. If your child is not old enough to read yet, read to them, even if it is a book that is over their head. They will understand and learn from you what foods they should avoid.
Have fun with your new way of eating.
Don’t dwell on what you can’t have. There is always a lot more that you can have than what you can’t have. Try out new recipes often, and make your taste buds happy. Make cakes, cookies, pies, and other fun things, too.
Do you have a question for me? Ask me anything, and I will do my best to answer. Email me at Karen@fabgrandma.com or use the contact form here.