[When eating out, remember to ask specific questions about the ingredients and how each dish is prepared.]
For the 5% to 8% of children and 1% to 2% of adults who have a food allergy, reading labels has gotten easier, courtesy of The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. Since 2006, companies have been required to clearly state on food labels whether the products contain the top eight food allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts.
In addition to being careful about what products you buy, cooking and baking more at home will help ensure that someone doesn't accidentally eat something that contains an allergen.
With cooking and baking at home as your goal, here are some practical tips on how to make the necessary substitutions in your family's favorite recipes for the three most difficult food allergies to cook with; wheat, milk and eggs.
(And check out the allergen-free recipes at the end of this article!)
Wheat Allergy Tips
Wheat, the most common grain in America, contains several types of protein that can activate an immune response in people who have an allergy to it. It differs from having a gluten sensitivity, which includes wheat and other cereal grains with gluten protein (barley, rye, and small quantities in oats).
Even though a wheat allergy is different from having gluten sensitivity, Chelsea Lincoln, recipe specialist from Bob's Red Mill, suggests gravitating toward gluten-free products and recipes. "All gluten-free products are wheat-free," explains Lincoln.
Foods/Products To Avoid:
- Breads, crackers, and other baked goods that contain wheat (rye bread and cornbread typically contain some wheat)
- Most breakfast cereals
- All pasta and noodles made from wheat
- Any fried or baked meat or vegetable coated with flour or breadcrumbs, cracker crumbs, or panko crumbs
- Any meat dish or mixture or filling containing flour, bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, cereal, or other forms of wheat (includes most sausages, hot dogs and cold cuts).
- Sauces, soups and gravies thickened with flour
- Salad dressing thickened with flour or other forms of wheat
- Pancakes, waffles, and fritters
- Imitation meat and seafood (imitation crabmeat) products that contain wheat flour
- Hot dogs (some brands contain wheat as an ingredient).
- Some ice creams (wheat is an ingredient in some brands of ice cream).
- Wheat (bran, germ, gluten, malt, sprouts)
- Flour (all types such as all-purpose, bread, cake, durum, graham, high gluten, pastry, stone ground, whole wheat, etc.)
- Wheat germ or wheat starch
- Wheat grass
- Whole-wheat berries
- Bread crumbs
- Club wheat
- Cracker meal
- Durum farina
- Einkorn, emmer, seitan or kamut (mostly relatives to wheat)
- Modified food starch
- Graham flour
- Semolina (refined durum wheat)
- Matzoh and matzo meal
- Triticale (combination of wheat and rye)
- Vital gluten
- The following ingredients may contain wheat protein: flavoring, hydrolyzed protein, soy sauce, starch such as modified starch, vegetable starch, wheat starch, and surimi.
- For breads, rolls, muffins, brownies, etc., substitute barley flour as long as your allergy is to wheat and not gluten. It performs the best of the alternative flours because it's one of the few grains, besides wheat, that contributes some gluten, notes Lincoln. Some stores also sell gluten-free baking flour, which can be used for making everything from cakes and cookies to breads and muffins.
- Substitute wheat-free pastas for noodles called for in recipes. Made from a variety of grains including quinoa, corn, potato, rice, and beans, wheat-free pastas are widely available in stores.
- Eliminate the breadcrumbs in recipes like casseroles, fried chicken, eggplant parmesan, or meat loaf and use shredded parmesan, crumbled wheat-free crackers, or cornmeal (depending on the recipe).
- For sauces and gravies, thicken the mixture with cornstarch, potato starch, or tapioca starch.
- For sauces, gravies, or creamy dressing, thicken and blend the mixture with pureed soft or silken tofu.
- For pancakes/waffles, use flour from other grains such as oat flour, rice flour, or barley flour.
- Instead of beer in recipes, substitute apple juice or wine.
Lincoln warns that recipes made with the wheat-free and gluten-free flour tend to be a bit drier, not rise as much, and have a more crumbly texture. She recommends adding a little xanthan gum to these recipes to help the bread products rise and hold together better. Bob's Red Mill recommends the following amounts of xanthan gum for gluten-free baking:
- For cookies: add 1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour
- For cakes and pancakes: add 1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour
- For muffins and quick breads: add 3/4 teaspoon per cup of flour
- For breads: add 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons per cup of flour
- For pizza dough: add 2 teaspoons per cup of flour
Having a cow's milk allergy, which includes an immune system reaction to proteins in milk, casein and whey, is different than being lactose intolerant (an inability to digest milk sugar or lactose). The milk allergy reaction can take place a few minutes or hours after eating or drinking a milk product. Keep in mind that between 13% and 20% of children who are allergic to milk are also allergic to beef.
Check the ingredients before you use a product, especially in processed or prepared foods, because manufacturers occasionally change the ingredients.
Foods/Products To Avoid:
- Milk of any type such as condensed, evaporated, dry or powdered milk, or cream. This also includes Lactaid and acidophilus milk.
- Goat's milk and milk from other animals. (Goat's milk protein is similar to cow's milk protein and may cause a reaction.)
- All types of cream and half-and-half
- Ice cream and ice milk
- Sherbet or frozen milk made with milk or milk-based ingredients
- Puddings and custards
- Cream-based sauces and soups, white sauces
- Butter, butter flavor, or non-vegan margarine, ghee, and everything made with them
- Cheese (all types), including cottage cheese and soy cheese
- Au gratin or creamed or scalloped recipe items
- All baked goods made with milk, including breads
- Mashed potatoes or other vegetable dishes made with milk, cheese, butter, margarine or cream
- Casseroles or other meat entrees or side dishes made with milk, cheese, butter, margarine or cream
- Instant cocoa, breakfast drink mixes, and cereals containing dried milk or any milk derivative
- Milk or milk solids
- Casein, like casein hydrolysate (some brands of canned tuna contain casein)
- Lactalbumin, lactulse and lactoferrin
- Caseinates (all forms) such as sodium caseinate, potassium caseinate, or calcium caseinate
- Butter (some restaurants add butter to their steaks after grilling, and there may be butter residue on the grill or cooking surface from foods prepared previously.)
- Butter "flavor"
- Lactic acid
- Natural or artificial flavoring
- Nondairy products (some products claim to be "nondairy" but actually contain milk derivatives that can cause problems)
- Rice milk
- Soy milk (check the label to be sure it doesn't contain milk-based ingredients)
- Oat milk
- Almond milk
- Fruit juice can work (depending on the recipe, like in breads and muffins)
- Broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef), for recipes like casseroles or mashed potatoes
Look for vegan cheese alternatives in your supermarket or natural foods store. Vegi-kaas and Soymage offer several options.
Substitutes For Yogurt Or Sour Cream In Recipes:
- Soy-based yogurt. Check the label to be sure it doesn't contain milk-based ingredients (such as White Wave Silk soy yogurts.)
- Vegan sour cream substitutes, such as Yo-Soy and Tofutti Sour Supreme. The first four ingredients in Tofutti's Sour Supreme are partially hydrogenated soybean oil, isolated soy protein, maltodextrin and tofu.
- Soft or silken tofu, beaten or pureed until smooth
- Wine or broth-based sauces
- Tomato sauces
- Pesto (olive oil and basil) without cheese
- Sundried tomato pesto without cheese
- There are several brands of vegan (dairy-free) margarines that you can use for recipes. Earth Balance has several options, such as their soy garden natural buttery spread and their vegan buttery sticks.
- Use canola oil when possible. (If the recipe calls for beating the butter or margarine with sugar until fluffy, a straight substitute with oil won't obtain this texture result.)