Food Allergies and Food Intolerances: Being Vegetarian/Vegan Can Be Your Answer!

Adverse Reactions to Food

It is important to understand if you have a Food Allergy OR a Food Intolerance.

Follow this flow chart, and if in doubt, consult your GP or Dietician to define whether you have an allergy or an intolerance:

Symptoms of Adverse Reactions to Food (Can Be Acute And / Or Chronic)

** Reactions can be either immediate OR delayed by 4- 24 hours **

  • Skin (rash / urticaria)
  • Gastrointestinal (oral allergy syndrome; nausea / vomiting; diarrhea / abdominal pain)
  • Respiratory symptoms (rhinitis, otitis, shortness of breath / asthma; anaphylactic shock)

Example of the difference between allergy / intolerance:

A person intolerant to Dairy does not produce the enzyme LACTASE in his/her gastrointestinal tract and cannot digest the milk sugar (LACTOSE) with ensuing LACTOSE-INTOLERANCE (usually in the form of an osmotic diarrhoea, and severe stomach cramps).

A person ALLERGIC to Cow’s Milk Dairy, has an immune-mediated reaction to the allergen: cow’s milk protein (either CASEIN OR WHEY), and can have either skin reactions (eczema) / gastrointestinal tract (diarrhoea / nausea) / upper respiratory tract infections (including asthma, chronic rhinitis etc).

Mechanisms of Food Allergy

Most cases of food allergy are IgE-mediated and produce immediate symptoms following the release of histamine and other mediators from mast cells and basophils.

The reaction can become generalised due to the absorption and spread of the allergen. 

Delayed cell-mediated allergy can occur hours or even days after the exposure. (not usually IgE-mediated). These reactions can cause symptoms in many different organs and are generally much more difficult to diagnose.

Allergenic Foods

Humans may become allergic to any proteins and select carbohydrates in any food.

MOST COMMON FOOD ALLERGIES:

  • GLUTEN (wheat, rye, barley and in some instances oats)
  • WHEAT (Rye, oats and barley are fine to use. Only wheat is excluded.)
  • COW’S MILK DAIRY
  • EGGS
  • NUTS
  • FISH / SHELLFISH

LESS COMMON FOOD ALLERGIES:

  • SOYA (<0.25% of the world’s population is allergic to soy)
  • MAIZE (very rare)
  • CITRIC ACID
  • FOOD COLOURANTS, NOTABLY TARTRAZINE AND THE AZO DYES
  • Sesame
  • Kiwi
  • Also some fruits and vegetables: usually contact reactions, mild and transient

COMMON FOOD INTOLERANCES:

  • WHEAT
  • DAIRY
  • GLUTEN

NOTE:

  • Practically any kind of food containing even small amounts of protein can cause an allergic reaction.
  • Hidden allergens can occur in processed foods or genetically modified foods (labeling of these is strictly controlled for allergens)
  • Small doses can trigger a reaction
  • Food allergies that occur in children are usually outgrown after a few years if the food(s) is effectively eliminated from the diet. (Antigen-dependent: peanut, fish & tree-nut allergies seem to persist, while egg, milk and wheat allergies seem to disappear)

The Importance of Balancing Your Diet Despite the Food Allergy/Intolerance

It is vital to eat a balanced vegetarian diet, despite the exclusion of one or more food allergens (e.g. bread/pasta/All Bran being excluded in a wheat-free diet).

Balanced vegetarian diets in fact, offer an excellent option in the treatment of food allergies, due to the fact that more fruits and vegetables are eaten than in a non-vegetarian diet, providing essential vitamins, minerals and fibre which boosts the immune system significantly.

MAIN TIPS FOR FOLLOWING A VEGETARIAN DIET WHICH EXCLUDES FOOD ALLERGENS:

  • Identify the food allergen / food to which one is intolerant first
    • This should be done under the guidance of a Registered Dietician, in order to prevent limiting certain foods unnecessarily causing nutrient imbalances.
    • An elimination diet could be followed when an allergy/intolerance is suspected. This involves removing all typical food allergens from a diet and swopping these out with foods that are not commonly problematic. This is followed for a period of 2-6 weeks until the patient is symptom-free for at least a week. After this period of food exclusion, a carefully structured reintroduction plan is followed, whereby foods excluded are reintroduced in small quantities (one new food at a time, gradually increased in amount, over 3 days, and then symptoms are monitored for by means of “Food and Symptom Diary” tracking foods eaten and times of ANY symptoms experienced. Problematic foods are again excluded, and “safe foods are identified). Eventually a balanced diet can be planned around the “safe foods” by a Registered Dietician.
    • Blood tests can be done to identify IgE levels, and also specific food allergens.
    • In the case of intolerances: blood and other tests can be carried out to identify specific enzyme deficiencies, and the consequent food intolerance caused.
  • Choose a variety of foods including whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and, if desired, dairy products and eggs. If there is allergy/intolerance is to one of these items, alternative sources of protein (in the case of egg/dairy/soya/nut allergy) must be used (*see suggestions below); and alternative grains must be used in the case of wheat / gluten allergies/intolerances (** see suggestions below)
  • Minimize intake of foods that are highly sweetened, high in sodium, and high in fat especially saturated fat and trans fatty acids
  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • If animal products such as dairy products and eggs are used, AND if there is no allergy/intolerance to either of these, choose low fat dairy products, and use both eggs and dairy products in moderation
  • Use a regular source of Vitamin B-12, and if sunlight exposure is limited, of Vitamin D.

*Alternative vegetarian protein sources for the following food allergens:

  • EGG: Dairy, soya, nuts, seeds, quorn
  • DAIRY: Eggs, soya, nuts, seeds, quorn
  • SOYA: Dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, quorn
  • NUTS: Dairy, eggs, soya, quorn

**Alternative starch / grain sources in the case of wheat / gluten allergies:

  • WHEAT: rye, oats, barley, maize, rice, corn/mealies, sweetcorn,  potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, millet
  • GLUTEN: maize, rice, corn/mealies, sweetcorn,  potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, millet, and possibly oats and oat bran

Sample menu for a Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free diet

Keep a healthy balance when planning meals (i.e. plan a source of carbohydrate, protein and fruit / vegetables at each meal / snack).

Plan in plenty of variety!

MEALMENU IDEAS
BreakfastSoya Life Premium Porridge
+ Soya Milk
Add: a seasonal fruit
Mid-morning2 peanut cookies / Soya Life muffins
+ 100ml Soya Life Instant Meal Replacement Drink
LunchBaked potato / Brown Rice / Sweet Potato
+ Soya patty / chickpea patty / 2 boiled eggs / dairy-free cheese
+ steamed veggies / mixed salad
Mid-afternoonFruit + nuts (if no allergy)
SupperBaked potato / Brown Rice / Sweet Potato
+ lentil curry / vegetarian lasagna / Soya patty / chickpea patty / omelettes with dairy-free cheese
+ steamed veggies / mixed salad
Snack Fruit + soya yoghurt / glass of Soya Milk
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