Tag Archives: Shopping

Food Substitutes for Common Allergies

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One of the most common responses I get from people when I tell them about my allergies is typically: “What do you even eat!?” I always find this funny to respond to; but I always reply with something along the lines of: “oh trust me, I eat.” I will admit that being allergic to wheat, eggs, and nuts can pose some limitations; though I realize not necessarily as many as others encounter with other allergies. There are, however, numerous food substitutions for allergens that allow you to not have a diet that is lacking important nutrients or yummy food options.

When trying to find replacements, in your cooking and baking, for common allergens, there are some commonly used options that are growing in popularity and can be found at many grocery and health food stores. Wheat flour is a very common in cooking and baking. This poses a challenge to those who have wheat allergies or gluten intolerances.  Numerous wheat-free flours are commonly available now for use. The challenge is getting an appropriate consistency with wheat free flour that best resembles regular wheat flour.  A combination of wheat- free flours is usually recommended to produce the best results when baking.  Different varieties of wheat-free flours include: white rice and brown rice flour, oat flour, potato flour, tapioca flour, and garbanzo (chick pea) flour.  Along with replacing wheat flour in cooking, there are many wheat-free products available in grocery stores and health food stores that include: breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, pizza doughs, etcetera. It is even more common to find gluten-free restaurant options and, with a little more searching, to find even restaurants and bakeries dedicated to being gluten free.

Dairy is another common allergen that is in many different foods. There are various possibilities for substitutions. For milk, there are a variety of dairy-free milks that are available. These include: soy, rice, hemp, almond, and coconut milk.  That being said, someone with nut allergies should exercise caution with almond and coconut milks depending upon their specific allergies.  For substituting butter, margarine may be an option for some; but many other foods are being used for butter in recipes which are considered to be ‘healthier options’.  This includes using coconut oil, applesauce, avocado, and canola oil in your baking in lieu of butter.  For substituting items such as yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese, dairy-free versions can be found at many health food stores and will often be made from a soy base.  Along with this, soy cheese and other vegan dairy-free cheeses are commonly sold; but these do not melt the same as regular cheese and, therefore, do not work in recipes where this is required.  Nutritional yeast is an item found in health food stores and it is a popular ingredient used in recipes requiring melted cheese (such as ‘mac and cheese’).

In terms of ice cream replacements, sorbet is a chilled dessert that doesn’t contain dairy. However, other dairy-free ice cream options are available—such as ice cream made with rice or coconut milk.

Egg can be a tricky allergen to replace in foods where it is the core ingredient; this is in dishes such as omelets and scrambled eggs.  Eggs are, however, key in baking either as a binder or leavening agent. But you can have various substitutes available that can also serve this purpose.  It is very common to find, in health food stores and some grocery stores, packaged egg replacer. This is a powder that, when mixed with milk, can be used specifically as a replacement for eggs in baking. Other egg substitutes that serve the ‘binding’ purpose in baking include: a half cup of mashed banana, ¼ cup of applesauce, 3-1/2 tablespoon gelatin blend or a ‘flax seed egg’ (1 tablespoon flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons water, set for one minute).  For using eggs as a leavening agent, a good substitute can be combining 1- ½ table spoons of vegetable oil with 1-1/2 table spoons water and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Also see a blog post by Arianne which specifically talks about focusing on replacing eggs!

Peanut and nut allergies are extremely common and can make eating some Asian foods such as Thai a ‘no-go’. These allergies also get rid of the possibility of having that classic ‘go-to peanut butter-jelly sandwich’.  Some alternatives include a variety of ‘seed butters’ available that are made out of seeds such as sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds. Soynut butter and peabutter are also common items now also found in grocery and health food stores.  Seeds can also be a great ingredient to use in salads and other dishes for a ‘nutty-like’ addition.

Soy is a tricky allergen to avoid. As you might have noticed, it is commonly used as a ‘go-to’ for other allergen substitutes.  That being said, more and more soy-free options are becoming available.  With items such as vegan cheese gaining in popularity, it is possible to find a soy-free version for those also allergic to dairy.  Soy-free margarines are also sold; but it does take some time to find what stores are the most soy-free friendly.  Butter is also an option for this if you are not also allergic to dairy.  For replacing soy oil, canola oil as well as olive oil are good options.  Some foods such as soy sauce are inevitably hard to replace; but there is always the option of searching out recipes to create your own version.   There are also chickpea versions of miso available (which is traditionally made from fermented soybeans).

This just highlights some common allergens that have different food substitutes available.  I always like to look at avoiding my allergies as a way to find exciting new ways to prepare food and get creative!  Feel free to share and comment below with other foods you struggle to find substitutes for or ways you have been creative with your food allergies!!

Caitlyn P.

 

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Changing Ingredients and the Importance of Checking Even Your Daily Staples

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It’s hard for me to pinpoint the age that I started to read. All I remember is that I was a swift reader upon entering the first grade. I do equate this to the fact that I had probably been reading ingredient labels well before your average fairytale (although I read those too)!

This act is as normal to me as opening a package. Whenever I eat, cook, or do anything involving a food item, a glance at the ingredients list  is just a part of the process. I am glad this has become a habit.

I remember one day when I was totally craving a fix of chocolate! I grabbed one of my favourite candy bars and, while waiting in line, took a look at the ingredients list. I questioned: “May contain traces of tree nuts and peanuts!?! Since when!?”

I remember having this incredibly bitter inner dialogue before reluctantly placing it back onto the shelf. A part of me was extremely disappointed, but another part  of me was relieved. If I hadn’t  checked the label, who knows what could have happened! I am lucky that the act of reading ingredients has become such an ingrained habit.

After reiterating the importance of checking labels, I must admit that there have been times that I have forgotten. I made a grave mistake once but I was very lucky with how the events played out. My most serious allergic reaction to date happened after eating a food before reading the ingredients. It was a food that I had eaten numerous times before. However, the “Holiday” version of this snack contained hazelnuts. I had wrongfully assumed the food was safe and landed myself in the hospital and on an IV on Christmas morning. The whole situation could have easily been avoided had I done the simple task of reading the label.

It is very important to always check the label. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve eaten that food, how much you trust the company, or whether or not it is an item that is unlikely to have come in contact with your allergen.

Please, check the label every single time. Have any of you had similar experiences with ingredients lists? Please comment below!

Nicole

Labeling Laws, Travel, and Making the Safe Choice

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Have you ever purchased one product over another simply based upon which country the product was made in? I have. One thing that concerns me is the fact that not all countries have the same labeling laws. Canada now has stricter labeling laws than it once did. This has forced many Canadian manufacturers to label whether their products contain any of the top 11 priority allergens. I have wanted to buy certain chocolate bars in the past; but I have worried about the fact that the same company also, for example, made chocolate bars with almonds as well.

There are some countries where labeling laws have different requirements, especially when it comes to precautionary label warnings such as “may contain” or “made in a facility that also processes…” statements. I tend to stick to products that are from either Canada or the U.S. as I feel more comfortable with the labeling in North America. I’ve had reactions to soy (undeclared) in some products from other countries and it has led me to be far more careful about what I buy and who I buy the product from. When in doubt, I have always emailed or called the company and asked for specific ingredient lists and about the practices they use to avoid cross-contamination (if they make products I am allergic to). When in your own country, it is, naturally, easier to find products that are safe for you to consume and with labels you can trust.

It becomes significantly trickier when you go to other countries, which have different labeling laws, regardless of the nature of your trip. Through experience, I have always found it important to look into national policies ahead of time. When traveling, I always bring a few snacks that I know are safe so I can limit the processed foods I will need to buy in a foreign country. Something as simple as tea could be unsafe if you have, for example, a soy allergy. Here in Canada, there are some brands which state “Contains soy.” This has always surprised me. From my perspective, tea is just dried fruits and leaves etcetera. So, when purchasing tea from other countries, I am a little hesitant. Some products will be safer than others. Ultimately, if you are traveling to another country, my biggest tip for you is to plan ahead. Find out about the country or countries’ labeling laws ahead of time. There is no harm in asking lots of questions! You are, as always, better safe than sorry.

 

Erika

Saving Money Buying Groceries with Allergies

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There is a very good chance that, if you have food allergies or an intolerance, you will spend more money on groceries than others who do not. A recent US study led by allergist Dr. Ruchi Gupta assessed the economic impacts of food allergies. The authors noted increased spending on groceries for families with food allergic members. The results of this study were published September 16th 2013 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The authors state: “Food allergy places unique out-of-pocket cost burdens on families such as purchasing allergen-free foods” (http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleID=1738764). I have lived with life-threatening food allergies and intolerances all of my life. It has been tricky to balance a healthy diet without spending more money than my budget allows. Being a full-time university student was definitely the most challenging time to eat healthy and stay on budget. What made this time particularly tough was that I had just started avoiding wheat and gluten. I took on part-time work to help pay the bills because I was spending huge amounts of money on groceries. With time, I have found tricks to help keep the grocery bills lower and still eat healthy. It has been a work in progress and I have learned quite a bit along the way. I have shared a few tips below that may help you keep your grocery bills a little lower and allow you to save money for other hobbies or priorities.

  1. Try to do a little more home cooking and baking. Products that are “allergen-free” or “free from the top 8 major allergens” can cost an “arm and a leg” and are often things you can make at home for a fraction of the price. It’s nice to have a treat every once in a while; however, some baked goods like muffins and cookies are definitely worth making at home and in the safety of your own kitchen. Pre-packaged foods that are allergen free can also be costly. I often like to try something new and then find or develop my own recipes to make a very similar meal at a fraction of the cost!
  2. Make a meal plan for the week.  By making a meal plan, you can do one-stop grocery shopping for the week. Trying to stick to one grocery shop per week means that you will likely spend less than if you went to go multiple times. It is also much easier to budget this way. List all the ingredients you will need to make each meal, once you have your meal plan, and you are ready to shop!
  3. Keep an eye on weekly flyers. Have a quick look at the flyer specific to the grocery store you usually go to before you make your meal plan for the week. If you see things on special, like meats or other products, plan your meals accordingly.
  4. Buy in larger quantities when you can. With allergies, buying in bulk can be really hard because the items they sell in bulk have avery high risk for cross-contamination. I never buy in bulk. I do, however, stock up on items when they are on sale and when, for example, a larger bag of rice is significantly cheaper than the regular size. Stock up on the staples if the discount is significant.
  5. Look out for coupons. Often brands will have coupons online or available with the purchase of their products. It may seem like a waste of time if you have coupons that are $1.00-$3.00, for instance, but it all adds up. I tend not to bother with the ones that are less than $1.00 off; but, again, everything counts when you are living on a tight budget.
  6. Make it and freeze extras. A jar of spaghetti sauce can run a few dollars at the grocery store. Buy some canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and add ground meat if you’d like to make a tasty homemade sauce that will cost you less and be just as tasty if not tastier that the store-bought brands! I like to make a double batch so I can freeze half of it for an easy dinner another night.

I’m sure you probably have some ideas of your own to save money. These are only a handful of the ones I use. Care to share a few of your own tips and tricks? How do you save money buying groceries with allergies? Share your ideas in the comments section so we can learn from each other.   Good luck!

Erika