Eating Well With Food Allergies
Written by: Julia Hop Hing, BASc. (c) Reviewed by: Mirieta Selimovska, MHSc. (c)
As a parent, getting your child to eat a balanced variety of foods may sometimes be challenging, but what about when they have food allergies? Food allergies are caused by the immune system reacting to specific proteins in food. Below is a list of Health Canada’s 11 common food allergens and some of their alternatives to consider in the aim to keep mealtimes safe, nutritious, and enjoyable.
Tip: food labels are required to list priority food allergens in their common terms, so reading them can help to prevent allergic reactions!
Non-dairy beverages such as soy, almond, or oat milk are good substitutes for dairy. Drinks that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D are the most similar nutritionally to cow’s milk, and are therefore particularly recommended to help your child grow and develop.
Eggs are rich in protein, iron, and potassium. Other animal and plant-based proteins such as tofu, fish, poultry, beans, and lentils can be good choices. In baking, eggs can be replaced by chia or flax seed gels, mashed banana, applesauce, or silken tofu.
Fish & Shellfish
Fish and shellfish contain essential nutrients like protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients can also be obtained from foods such as eggs or chia, flax, and hemp seeds. Because shellfish and fish are two separate types of allergens, they may be alternatives for one another!
Mustard seeds contain small amounts of fibre and magnesium. In cooking, minced onion, horseradish, and jalapenos can lend a similar flavour.
Peanuts & Tree Nuts
Peanuts and tree nuts (e.g. walnuts, almonds, and cashews) can be substituted in recipes with foods that contain healthy fats, protein, and fibre. Examples include chickpeas and seed butters. Like with seafood, peanuts and tree nuts aren’t from the same family, so being allergic to one doesn’t mean being allergic to the other!
Sesame is a great source of healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. It can be substituted with chia, flax, or pumpkin seeds. In recipes that call for sesame oil, use olive or canola oil instead. Be sure to always check the labels, as some vegetable oils may contain sesame.
Soy can be a tricky allergen to avoid because parts of soy are often used to help improve the taste, appearance, and shelf life of foods. When cooking, plant-based substitutes for tofu or tempeh include seitan, lentils, and jackfruit.
Sulphites aren’t typically used in cooking. Rather, they act as additives used to preserve foods, although some foods naturally contain them. Generally, sulphites may be present in foods such as dried fruits, canned fruits and vegetables, grapes, vinegar, and jams.
Whole grains are a great source of carbohydrates, fibre, healthy fats, and protein. Many wheat-free flour blends are available on the market, which are rice, soy, or amaranth based!
It’s important to read food labels every time you shop, before eating or serving foods to anyone with a food allergy. To make this process easier, Health Canada requires common allergens and gluten sources to be listed on food labels when they are ingredients or parts of ingredients. They will be listed in the ingredient list or in a ‘contains’ statement right under the ingredient list.
If you’re concerned that allergens are limiting your child’s food intake or health, speak with your healthcare professional, such as a Registered Dietitian or family doctor. Happy eating!
Dietitians of Canada. (2018, April 26). Facts on egg allergies. Retrieved from https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Allergies-and-Intolerances/Facts-on-Egg-Allergies.aspx
Dietitians of Canada. (2018, August 16). Facts on milk allergies. Retrieved from https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Food-allergies-intolerances/Managing-Milk-Allergies.aspx
Dietitians of Canada. (2018, April 25). Facts on peanut allergies. Retrieved from https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Food-allergies-intolerances/Peanut-Allergies-FAQs.aspx
Dietitians of Canada. (2018, April 26). Facts on tree nut allergies. Retrieved from https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Allergies-and-Intolerances/Facts-on-Tree-Nut-Allergies.aspx
Food Allergy Canada. (2020). Common food allergens. Retrieved from https://foodallergycanada.ca/
Food Allergy Canada. (2020). Reading food labels. Retrieved from https://foodallergycanada.ca/living-with-allergies/day-to-day-management/reading-food-labels/
Food Allergy Canada. (2020). What is a food allergy? Retrieved from https://foodallergycanada.ca/food-allergy-basics/food-allergies-101/what-are-food-allergies/
Government of Canada. (2008). Common food allergens. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-safety/food-allergies-intolerances/food-allergies.htmlGovernment of Canada. (2008). Nutrient value of some common foods. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/nutrient-data/nutrient-value-some-common-foods-2008.html