cooking with (mild) allergies
September 15, 2007 3:27 PM   Subscribe

I have been diagnosed with a number of non-life-threatening food allergies and been told to avoid them as best possible. Please suggest recipes, substitutions, general tips, etc. Forbidden foods listed after the cut.

allergies: corn, rice, rye, wheat, eggs, cow's milk and cheese, oranges, strawberries, string beans, tomatoes, potatoes, shellfish, chicken, pork and chocolate.
other useful info: I'm in Vancouver, 22, male, decent in the kitchen, prefer things to be cooked quickly, and I don't eat beef for religious reasons.
secondary questions: what do I order if I eat out? can I no longer drink beer?
posted by heeeraldo to Food & Drink (35 answers total)
google "gluten-free vegan diet", it's mostly all of it for you. and you can eat fish, too, right? it's a pain in the ass but not that bad, good luck
posted by matteo at 3:38 PM on September 15, 2007

Best answer: That's really quite a list. Who did this diagnosis?

The reason I'm asking is that "food allergy" is one of those things that fakes and cranks claim a lot, and I wonder if your diagnostician is full of it.

How did your diagnostician determine that you had all those allergies? What symptoms did they claim you were suffering from due to them?

I suggest that you need a second opinion.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:07 PM on September 15, 2007

i'll second the above about the crank thing.

however, i'll also second that gluten-free vegan eating/recipes will make your life easier. Sarah Kramer's site may be helpful, and her cookbooks are awesome. Especially handy are the different substitutes for eggs that can be used variously in recipes. (ground flax seed, soft tofu, ener-g egg replacer, banana, and apple sauce all work.) I find this indispensable.
posted by RedEmma at 4:15 PM on September 15, 2007

matteo, I'm not so sure about that - the gluten-free people I know tend to eat corn, rice and potatoes to replace the carbohydrates from wheat. This looks more like a dairy-intolerant version of the Atkins diet....

Like Steven C. Den Beste, I'm somewhat sceptical about this situation. heeeraldo, I'd be very curious to know who gave you this diagnosis, and whether or not they got their qualifications off the back of a cereal packet. Either that or it's someone less than professional who thinks you need to lose some weight.
posted by Lebannen at 4:17 PM on September 15, 2007

Response by poster: Steve: it was an allergist, who's been certified and practicing for 20 years; I was actually in to get tested for my airbornes (grass, alder, oak, birch, dust, dogs, cats, etc) and he thought I should be tested for food allergies as well.

I had the scratch test done and I got to watch the damn things swell up on my arms - I'm fairly sure it wasn't a quack.
posted by heeeraldo at 4:28 PM on September 15, 2007

Sorry. And I now know that it is possible to be allergic to oranges but not other citrus, which was one of the things that was making me think that list looked like nonsense, so, sorry again.
posted by Lebannen at 4:32 PM on September 15, 2007

Yes, if you had an actual scratch test, then... I guess you're just doomed. :(
posted by mek at 4:32 PM on September 15, 2007

Do you have celiac disease (the tag)? It's not an allergy. Gluten intolerance is a genetic intolerance, like lactose.
posted by birdie birdington at 4:35 PM on September 15, 2007

Have you done an elimination diet to make sure about any of the foods, though? A few years ago, my sister was diagnosed with an alarming array of food allergies via scratch test, but when she did controlled elimination diet tests, it turned out that only a few of them were genuinely severe enough to warrant fully eliminating from her diet.
posted by scody at 4:35 PM on September 15, 2007

Response by poster: bird: no, but I thought it would be useful for future celiac sufferers so I tagged it as such.
posted by heeeraldo at 4:36 PM on September 15, 2007

You might find some useful answers in this earlier question.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:37 PM on September 15, 2007

heeeraldo, when the doctor gave you the diagnosis, didn't s/he give you some resources to read up, as well as a nutritionist's name to follow up with?

Did the doctor give you a list of allowed foods so you can begin combining safe foods into tasty recipes?

Sure - the list of allergic foods appears frightsome, but there are many foods that remain off that list.

An additional question to ask the allergist is whether you are equally allergic to all of these foods - or whether some of these foods should be avoided at all costs, whereas others could be tolerated in small quantities perhaps once a week (for me, the latter is the case with whole wheat and with corn)

Surely you are not the only patient this doctor has had, with this combination of allergies. I am certain that a good nutritionist can create a month of menus for you and bypass all the foods that you listed in your question.

Therefore my recommendation to you is to seek the guidance of a good nutritionist.

I did just that after seeing an allergist as well as a naturopath, who found allergies and food sensitivities. When I do not eat certain foods at all I feel great, but if I introduce some of them no more than once a week, I still feel ok.
posted by seawallrunner at 4:41 PM on September 15, 2007

Not saying this is necessarily the case, but sometimes you can end up with false positives with the scratch test. In other cases, you can end up having a cross-reaction to something if it's in the same family as one of your "real" allergens. I've never had a problem with peaches, cherries, and some other fruits when I would eat them as a kid, but now I avoid them after finding out they're in the same family as some of the things I actually am allergic to.

But if your doctor says to avoid those foods, then it's something you learn to work around. I don't have a lot of advice about your specific allergies, but since I have a serious allergy to tree nuts, I do a lot of avoiding certain foods, and this is what I can tell you - one, read the labels on everything you eat, and don't eat something if you're not sure. Two, check out the allergen statements from restaurants you eat at (a lot of that stuff is available online) at to help you better avoid any of the things on your list.
posted by flod logic at 4:43 PM on September 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

On the actual subject at hand, I think it's best to focus on the staples, and work outwards from there. Things that come to mind:

legumes in general, kidney/pinto/black beans, lentils, barley, chickpeas
peppers (these could be your salvation)
onions & garlic
cassava/yucca, sweet potatoes, yams, squash, etc
eggplant, carrots, celery/celeriac, fennel, zucchini, cucumber, etc
coconut milk!
goat milk/yogurt/cheese

Really, there's still a lot out there. Given these ingredients, some research into Central and South American cuisine will provide a LOT of recipes. Learning to make curry, tagines, etc will also help. With the tomato/potato/meat trinity ruled out, there's not going to be a lot of options in "standard" cuisine... but you can definitely substitute red peppers for tomatoes, and other root vegetables for potatoes.
posted by mek at 4:45 PM on September 15, 2007

Best answer: You can have sorghum beer, which is gluten free beer, but you'll probably have a hard time finding it at your average bar.

Wild rice, which is a grass seed, not a rice, is probably a good addition to your diet. Also check out barley, quinoa, amaranth and millet.

Fish is your friend, certainly. Salmon, tuna, flounder, tilapia, catfish, halibut, turbot, scrod, cod, bass, sole and many others. Salmon is super high in Omega 3 fatty acids. Flax seeds are also high in Omega 3s if you decide to go vegan.

Turkey breast, turkey cutlets, turkey sausage, ground turkey. Lamb chops, shanks, ribs. Goat, if you care for it and can find it.

Check out soy milk, soy products in general and tofu. You can find lots of meat substitutes these days which are much tastier and satisfying than their predecessors. I use soymilk alot - in my coffee, in cereal - and also in most baked goods where milk is called for. Goat milk is another option, as is goat cheese and sheep's milk cheeses. Tofu and soy cheeses today are vast improvements both in terms of taste and texture than what used to be available.

I would also suggest mushrooms - portobellas are a great meat substitute texturally and their flavor is delicious. Shitakes, creminis, and regular button mushrooms are all excellent options, as well as the pricier morels, chanterelles, porcini, bluefoot, and enoki varieties.

Add peppers to your diet for spice, sweetness and color, as well. Roasted red peppers are delicious pureed with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper - great as a spread or as a sauce for various proteins. Chili peppers and powders of all varieties would be good to stock up on.

Mashed bananas are a good egg substitute in baked goods. Silken tofu is also a good choice. Also good warmed with honey spooned over the top for a satisfying, sweet dessert.

Tons of greens - chard, kale, beet greens, dandelion greens, lettuces, arugula, radicchio, watercress. Also herbs - thyme, rosemary, mint, tarragon, chives, parsley, cilantro, basil.

Cauliflower - great roasted, roasted and pureed, steamed and sprinkled with mint, olive oil, and salt and pepper. A good textural and flavor substitute for potatoes. Yuca, sweet potatoes, yams.

Lentils, beans of all varieties, soy beans, adzuki beans.

Textured vegetable protein. Myriad other fruits and vegetables.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 4:47 PM on September 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

As far as what to drink; seems like the wine booze-group would probably be okay.
posted by ambilevous at 5:01 PM on September 15, 2007

Have you been able to eat these foods with no ill effects? Would you continue to eat them had you not had an allergy test?

I'd also like to second that the scratch test means that while your skin reacted to the food, it doesn't mean that the protiens in the food will necessarily affect your digestion or general health. Reason to point that out is that you had the scratch test after you went to your allergist about seasonal allergies (hayfever stuff I presume) and NOT because of any other problems. Doesn't mean these foods are wreaking havoc or doing anything to your digestive system. But then again it just might. People have died from eating shellfish or peanuts when they were allergic.

Also in addition to cross-reactions, when you are in the middle of an allergic attack (like hayfever) you may present as being allergic to other stuff that you will not be allergic to in ordinary times. Example when it is hayfever season I go into allergic overdrive against grapes and wine, esp red wine. (Raisins have no effect, surprisingly) but outside of hayfever season I can drink red wine till I puke.

In terms of practical advice, bear in mind that red peppers and eggplant are in the nightshade family. If you are already allergic to two nightshades (potatoes and tomatoes) it is possible you may hvae issues with these two already.
posted by xetere at 5:04 PM on September 15, 2007

Chicken allergy? I call shenanigans.
posted by rhizome at 5:07 PM on September 15, 2007

I've personally never heard of it, but if you're allergic to a specific protein, it might be possible. Allergies are insane, I'm always hearing of new ones.
posted by agregoli at 5:13 PM on September 15, 2007

Chicken allergy? I call shenanigans.

It happens. Vaccination related, apparently.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:16 PM on September 15, 2007

Corn is tough. It's in tons of stuff as corn syrup and more stuff as corn starch. Basically anything with baking powder in it has corn starch!

Potato starch baking powder is available at some hippie grocery stores, but that only helps you if you are willing to bake everything yourself.
posted by aubilenon at 6:22 PM on September 15, 2007

Response by poster: seawallrunner: he said to call Dial-a-Dietician; this is supplementary to that.

TtT: both useful and eponysterical. awesome.

ambi: for the most part, they cause indigestion.

rhizome: I was also incredulous and more than a little displeased.

aubi: that's good to know, thanks.
posted by heeeraldo at 6:32 PM on September 15, 2007

Potato starch baking powder is available at some hippie grocery stores, but that only helps you if you are willing to bake everything yourself.

Besides which, potatoes were on the list, too.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:38 PM on September 15, 2007

Even though it was a practicing allergist, I would strongly suggest getting another opinion. That's a remarkably long list, and includes several items that are not generally considered allergens. Rice is virtually never allergy-inducing, which is why allergists always have you eat just rice for awhile before coming in for a test.

If a second opinion confirms that you really are allergic to that many things, you might want to look into the pig whipworm treatment. Allergies, apparently, are caised by the anti-parasite branch of the immune system malfunctioning. Historically, humans always had worms, and our bodies are highly adapted to dealing with them. In their absence, the immune system can start attacking things that aren't worms, but then quiet right back down as soon as it sees the foe it was originally developed to fight.

Pig whipworms will live in your gut a few months, but they're not contagious and can't reproduce in our systems. They give your immune system exposure to the worms it was designed for, but with very few other symptoms. In many (most?) cases, your other allergies will subside dramatically or go away entirely.

With an allergy list that long and difficult to deal with, I think it's something you might want to look into. You can get this treatment from real medical professionals. It's not just quackery, although it's quite new.
posted by Malor at 7:40 PM on September 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

That's an interesting idea. There's what's known as the "hygiene hypothesis" that says that the reason allergies are on the rise in western countries is because we're using too much disinfectant and avoiding too many things that our immune systems are designed to cope with.

What Malor is describing seems to be known as "Helminthic therapy".

Even if it was an allergist who came up with that list, I'm having a real hard time taking it seriously. You really, really need a second opinion.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:05 PM on September 15, 2007

I would say try for a second opinion as well. Of course my opinion is based off of my own recent experience, where my entire left arm (the food allergens) ballooned up almost, but not quite, as big as the airborne allergens on my right arm.

I freaked out and asked if I was allergic to all those foods and they said no, it's just because I have such sensitive skin, so I can eat them if I want, just don't go rolling around in a bucket of strawberries or whatever. Allergies are also not a constant and can vary based on the time period and a lot of other factors. Good luck!
posted by SassHat at 8:16 PM on September 15, 2007

For fuck's sake, have you actually been suffering any problems you could attribute to eating these foods? Have you just happened to be on the turkey-fish-and-beans diet your whole life? Let your common sense trump medical science.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:55 PM on September 15, 2007

Best answer: I got similar results from an ELISA test and later found that their accuracy is suspect. I now quite healthily and happily consume many of the so-called bad foods.

I didn't ignore the results though. I eliminated them for a month and then added the bad foods slowly back in, monitoring the results. Most of them did not cause any problems. Most being the operative word, so it is worth eliminating them for a bit.

The diet I used was a paleo diet. It was damn expensive, but I lost a lot of weight. Salmon, greens, coconut, nuts, avocados, "wild" game like venison, portabella, seaweed, kiwis, olives, flax, squash, honey etc. made up the nucleus of my energy food.

Eating out? Hard, but more and more restaurants are catering to niche diners, so look on for vegan/unusual ethnic. Rice is not a common allergen in the West and if you can determine that it's not a problem, Thai food is your friend. Some Ethiopain restaurants serve injerna made with pure teff flour, which is gluten-free.

I also used some Specific Carbohydate Diet recipes, like Almond bread.
posted by melissam at 10:03 PM on September 15, 2007

Get a second opinion. Also, have you new doctor explain the difference between having an allergic reaction to a scratch test and a real world allergy. I can eat, oh, a pound of watermelon and only get a slightly to moderate scratchy throat. I dont need to avoid it, even though I technically allergic to it. I certainly do not have to avoid everything in the melon family.

If you had severe allergies to wheat, corn, vegetables, chicken, and shellfish, you'd be dead long before your 3 or 4th birthday.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:50 PM on September 15, 2007

Best answer: If that were my problem, I'd live with the crappy diet a while and then start adding back stuff, one at a time, slowly, and watch for symptoms.

It actually was, at one point, except mine was pain-related. What they were pushing back then was fish-rice-vegetables until you felt better. (That's shrimp fried rice, basically.) Took about a month, and then I started back with the things that gave me the most options first, like bread.

I know one person who's allergic to raw tomatoes, but not cooked ones, and one who's allergic to eggplant, but neither of them have problems with the whole rest of the nightshade family, so it can happen. You should probably ask if what they used for the allergy test are raw or cooked. The raw tomatoes guy says the enzyme gets denatured at 160°, which is why cooked ones don't bother him.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 1:30 AM on September 16, 2007

Try looking at some raw food cookbooks. They are vegan, which eliminates a lot of things you're allergic too, and things like wheat and rice usually have to be cooked before you can eat them, so that'll eliminate those as well.

I'm gluten intolerant and hard cider is now my drink of choice. It even kind of looks like beer.
posted by carolr at 1:10 PM on September 16, 2007

Oops, I didn't notice the potato allergy. No problem, make your own baking powder! The starch only acts as a filler and anti-clumping agent for storage.
posted by aubilenon at 4:01 PM on September 16, 2007

I had the scratch tests as a kid, and I was allergic to 9 out of every 10 things, usually. But nothing I eat causes me problems. I say either eliminate one thing at a time from your diet and see if you notice feeling any different, or go ahead and eliminate them all for a while, then readd them one at a time and see if you feel sick.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:57 PM on September 16, 2007

I didn't see barley or oats on your list, so that leaves you some additional options that Celiacs don't have.

I have Celiac and have been gluten-free for almost a year. It was really difficult at first, but it does get easier with time and experience.

I do know several people with multiple food allergies--even worse than the list you have. Their diets can be a little bland and repetitive, but they seem to manage.

Try searching "gluten-free vegan" at All Recipes. You will need to check for other forbidden ingredients, but it's a starting point.

Good luck!
posted by Mrs. Smith at 5:27 AM on September 17, 2007

Response by poster: followup: so I'm going to ask for a second opinion when I go to see my GP - in the meantime I'll be reintroducing the food items one at a time. Thanks again for the support and the skepticism, folks.
posted by heeeraldo at 7:44 PM on September 17, 2007

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