Dietary Considerations within Plant-Based Living
Have you ever been invited somewhere, only to find there is nothing you can eat? This happens a little too frequently for vegetarians and vegans in a meat-centric world, but what about within the vegan community? If you have a food allergy, your options may be further limited.
The U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) website says that millions of Americans have allergic reactions to food each year! Luckily, many reactions cause “relatively mild and minor symptoms” but others could land someone in the hospital.
The FDA identified more than 160 allergens, and to my surprise, a short list of 8 foods account for 90 percent of food allergic reactions.
The eight foods that account for 90% of all food allergies are:
- Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
- Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans)
If you are already embracing plant-based eating, you’ve just cut the list of allergies in half. Now, think about your favorite foods. You likely have something from this short list in your home or on your plate when you eat at a restaurant. And one allergen gets more hype than the others.
For some reason, I’ve noticed people make a correlation between gluten free and vegan. Do they think the gluten comes from an animal, or is it just easier to offer one lowest common denominator?
Everyone is Talking About Gluten
In exploring this a bit more, I thought about people who ask for gluten free options. People with Celiac Disease, wheat allergies, and gluten insensitivities who need to stay clear of glutenous grains and seitan (“wheat meat”) are joined by the droves of people ditching wheat thanks to diets like Whole 30, Paleo, and others. Could these diets really only be making people feel better because they eliminate wheat for those who were actually allergic?
A colleague with Celiac Disease told me she could never consider a vegan diet because of how much wheat is in it. I asked a few questions and realized that the friend who introduced her to veganism raved about compassion for animals, and served seitan faux meats to her family, even when they complained of stomach issues. While this is still vegan, it’s no surprise this wheat-centric spin on plant-based cooking really made my colleague shy away from the idea.
Compassion extends beyond the animals being saved by each plant-based meal. Awareness of common food allergies can help you get creative and make easy modifications to existing meals. What if you were cooking for a group of people, and hoping to sway a few of them towards a compassionate plant-based diet? A meal rich in top allergens may unintentionally push someone away instead of pull them in. Just as my colleague wrote off veganism based on seitan, who might continue to eat meat because of a misconception that “all vegan food is made of soy” or “vegans put tree nuts on everything.”
Let’s Talk About Other Common Allergies
Awareness of these common allergens – peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy – should be considered when bringing a dish to a potluck, or hosting people for a meal. Even if these ingredients are in your normal repertoire, consider what could happen if you served nuts to someone. Worst case, they could be rushed to the hospital, and even if it’s a mild reaction that can be fixed with a couple of Benedryl, think about their experience with vegan food. Happy people tell others about their experiences. Unhappy ones tell twice as many people.
Debunk myths like “I can’t be vegan because I have Celiac Disease” or “veganism won’t work for me because I can’t eat tree nuts.” Treat every meal as an opportunity to teach people how delicious (and accommodating) this compassionate lifestyle can be.
If you choose to cook with these allergens, please consider the following:
Label clearly: Including a card with ingredients at a potluck will help people identify any allergens.
- Highlight ingredient. If listing the ingredients by quantity, highlight allergens with an asterisk, bold font, etc. Left-align the ingredient list, and only put one ingredient per line so it is easiest to read quickly down the line and scan for allergens
- Prioritize the list. Many ingredient lists start with the largest quantities at the top, so nuts or soy may be lurking ten ingredients deep. Consider alphabetizing the list, or pulling out allergens to list at bottom of the card like FDA regulated packages i.e., “CONTAINS: TREE NUTS”.
- Use icons. Colored dots, cartoon pictures of the allergen, or even a letter in a circle will draw in the reader.
Serve separately: If a dish you love includes a nut-based cheese sauce or peanut dressing, make it optional. Serve the sauce on the side, and let the guests decide if the dish has the identified allergen. Consider serving a few options, so the absence of sauce or dressing isn’t an issue.
Consider alternatives: Even if your recipe is awesome, why not try it with a few different ingredients? Experimenting can be fun, and there are always other alternatives. Plenty of seeds can create the creamy, buttery texture and consistency of nuts. There are all sorts of gluten free and grain free flours for baking and cooking. Just remember, coconut flour absorbs 4x more than wheat flour, so adjust liquids accordingly!