Guide to Food Allergies and Special Eating Needs

Eight Common Trigger Foods

Following the guide below can help you prepare a meal for someone with food allergies or other special eating needs. Hidden sources are not as elusive as they were before it became mandatory to list, in plain language, ingredients derived from the "Big Eight" allergens. But you still need to read labels. We've simplified that job by identifying some foods in which these risky ingredients are common.

We also offer ways to modify favorite dishes so all can enjoy them. Note: The information in this chart is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Since allergies and intolerances are quite variable, it's best to ask your guests about their specific restrictions before you start planning a dinner menu.

The Big Eight


Also relevant to:

  • people with lactose intolerance (though many can tolerate yogurt and aged cheeses)
  • vegans

Foods to avoid
Cow's milk and all food products-including butter, buttermilk, cheese, cream cheese, cream, half and half, ice cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, pudding, sour cream-made from it. Plus, many (but not all) people who are allergic to cow's milk are sensitive to proteins in goat's milk and sheep's milk too.

Common hidden sources
Deli meats and hot dogs, veggie burgers, sorbet, canned tuna, chocolate, nondairy creamers, commercial breads and rolls, salad dressings and mayonnaise.

Delicious swaps

  • Substitute an equal amount of rice milk, soymilk or almond milk in recipes.
  • Blend soy yogurt into smoothies.
  • Make a cheeseless pesto.
  • Bake cookies with nonhydrogenated margarine, soy/rice milk, dairy-free chocolate chips.


Also relevant to:

  • vegans

Foods to avoid

Note: Some people are so sensitive to egg proteins that cooking fumes can stoke an allergic reaction.

Common hidden sources
Ice creams, egg substitutes, pastas, candies, hot dogs, meatballs, breads, rolls and other baked goods, mayonnaise, meringues, marshmallows, nougat and marzipan.

Delicious swaps

  • Sub mashed avocado, hummus or tapenade for mayo on sandwiches.
  • Scramble tofu with salsa, black beans and a little cheese.
  • Make your own frozen yogurt instead of eating commercial ice cream.


Foods to avoid
Peanut butter, mixed nuts, beer nuts, peanut oil.

Note: Experts often caution those with peanut allergies to avoid tree nuts, due to cross-contamination risks. Plus, about one-third of those with an allergy to peanuts (which are legumes like beans) have or will develop an allergy to one or more true nuts, which grow on trees.

Common hidden sources
Sauces used in ethnic-Asian, African and Mexican-meals (e.g., mole), candy, chocolate, sunflower seeds and nut butters (which often are processed on shared equipment, so read labels to find ones that keep peanuts separate), some natural and artificial flavors and many other foods (i.e., read labels of all processed foods).

Delicious swaps

  • Dip apples in a little honey instead of peanut butter.
  • Pop some popcorn when craving a crunchy, salty snack.
  • Think outside the peanut butter-sandwich box: try turkey-cranberry, Cheddar-chutney or goat cheese roasted red pepper.

Tree Nuts

Foods to avoid
Walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, and more.

Note: Experts often caution those with tree nut allergies to avoid peanuts too. (See explanation above.)

Common hidden sources
Cereals, chocolate, candies, marzipan, nougat, mortadella, pesto and some natural and artificial flavors (i.e., read labels of all processed foods).

Delicious swaps

  • Mix your own nut-free trail mix with a variety of favorite cereals, raisins and banana chips.
  • Try whole-grain croutons in salads to mimic the crunchy texture of nuts.


Also relevant to:

  • vegans

Foods to avoid
Fish including tuna, salmon, catfish, and more.

Note: Experts often caution those allergic to fish to be aware of cross-contamination risks of eating shellfish and other seafood.

Common hidden sources
Caesar salad dressings (many contain anchovy paste), Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, caponata, imitation crab meat (a.k.a., surimi).

Delicious swaps

  • Blend olives and sun-dried tomatoes into cream cheese as a substitute for smoked salmon on a bagel.
  • Prepare canned chicken as you would canned tuna.


Also relevant to:

  • vegans

Foods to avoid
Shrimp, crab, lobster, crawfish, and more.

Note: Experts often caution those allergic to fish to be aware of cross-contamination risks of eating fish and other seafood.

Common hidden sources
Fish stocks, flavorings (anything labeled "natural and/or artificial flavorings" may contain fish by-products).

Delicious swaps

  • Try risotto cakes instead of crab cakes.
  • Stir up a festive paella using a variety of meats and veggies instead of shellfish.


Foods to avoid
Soymilk, tofu, tempeh, edamame, soybeans, soy protein isolate, soy sauce, soy nuts, TVP or textured vegetable protein (defatted soy flour), tamari, miso.

Common hidden sources
Tuna, deli meats, hot dogs, vegetable broth, vegetable starch, textured vegetable protein, cereals, infant formulas, sauces, soups, many vegetarian products.

Delicious swaps

  • Make a stir-fry with seitan (wheat gluten) or chicken, plus veggies, ginger and garlic (skip the soy sauce!).
  • Try paneer (pressed Indian cheese) in your curry.
  • Enjoy fortified rice milk on cereal.


Also relevant to:

  • people with celiac disease

Foods to avoid
Wheat-based pastas, cereals, breads, bran; wheat germ, wheat berries, semolina (a type of wheat used to make pasta), kamut (used in cereals, crackers and pasta), bulgur, seitan.

Common hidden sources
Ice creams, bouillon cubes, potato chips, deli meats, French fries, soy sauce, many processed snacks (too many to list), breadcrumbs, couscous, spelt, hot dogs.

Delicious swaps

  • Experiment with different pastas, including those made from corn, brown rice and quinoa.
  • Switch from flour to corn tortillas.
  • Use rice noodles for Asian-inspired dishes.

See Gluten Free Recipes, Menus, and Tips


Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas
Filled with bell peppers, pinto beans, mushrooms and onions, these colorful enchiladas can be mostly made ahead--perfect for entertaining. Pass some crumbled queso fresco, chopped fresh cilantro and diced avocado at the table.

Makes 6 servings, 2 enchiladas each

ACTIVE TIME: 1 1/4 hours
TOTAL TIME: 1 1/2 hours

1 poblano pepper or green bell pepper
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (optional)
8 ounces tomatoes, roughly chopped, plus diced tomato for garnish
1 cup vegetable broth (see Note)
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped, plus more leaves for garnish

3 bell peppers (1 each red, yellow and orange), diced
8 ounces cremini (baby portobello) mushrooms, diced
3/4 cup diced red onion
4 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed (see Note)
12 6-inch corn tortillas

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. To prepare sauce: Roast poblano (or bell) pepper directly over the flame of a gas burner, turning frequently with tongs, until evenly charred. (Alternatively, char under the broiler, turning once or twice, for 5 to 7 minutes total.) Transfer to a deep bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to steam for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add yellow onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, chili powder, paprika and ground chipotle (if using) and cook, stirring, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  4. Peel the pepper, discard the stem and seeds, and chop. Add to the saucepan along with chopped tomatoes, broth and chopped cilantro. Return to medium heat and cook, uncovered, at a steady simmer, until the liquid has reduced slightly and the tomatoes have broken down, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.)
  5. To prepare filling: While the sauce simmers, place bell peppers, mushrooms and red onion in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 4 1/2 teaspoons oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Roast, stirring halfway through, until the vegetables are tender and browned in spots, about 15 minutes total. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in beans. Reduce oven temperature to 375°.
  6. To prepare enchiladas: Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place a skillet over medium heat. Coat both sides of a tortilla with cooking spray. Heat in skillet for 5 to 10 seconds per side, adjusting the heat if the pan gets too hot. Spread 1/3 cup of the filling and 1 tablespoon of the sauce down the middle of the tortilla and roll it up to enclose the filling. Place seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, filling and sauce. Spread the remaining sauce and filling over the enchiladas.
  7. Bake, uncovered, until hot, about 15 minutes. Serve garnished with diced fresh tomato and cilantro leaves, if desired.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 269 calories; 8 g fat (1 g sat, 4 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 45 g carbohydrate; 9 g protein; 9 g fiber; 753 mg sodium; 726 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (120% daily value), Selenium (25% dv), Potassium (21% dv), Vitamin A (20% dv), Magnesium (19% dv), Folate (16% dv).
2 1/2 Carbohydrate Servings. Exchanges: 2 starch, 2 vegetable, 1 1/2 fat

Note: Check labels of vegetable broth, spices and beans: some brands may contain unexpected allergens or gluten, which people with celiac disease can't tolerate.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: Prepare the sauce (Steps 1-4) and the filling (Step 5); cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Digestive Health Recipes and Menus

Cucumber & Black-Eyed Pea Salad
An easy salad to serve with grilled chicken or steak for supper or on a bed of greens for a satisfying lunch. Substitute white beans or chickpeas for the black-eyed peas if you prefer.

Makes 6 servings, about 1 cup each

ACTIVE TIME: 20 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 20 minutes

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
Freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups peeled and diced cucumbers
1 14-ounce can black-eyed peas, rinsed
2/3 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup slivered red onion
2 tablespoons chopped black olives

Whisk oil, lemon juice, oregano and pepper in a large bowl until combined. Add cucumber, black-eyed peas, bell pepper, feta, onion and olives; toss to coat. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 160 calories; 10 g fat (3 g sat, 6 g mono); 11 mg cholesterol; 12 g carbohydrate; 5 g protein; 3 g fiber; 270 mg sodium; 273 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (50% daily value), Vitamin A (15% dv).
1 Carbohydrate Serving. Exchanges: 1 vegetable, 1/2 starch, 1/2 very lean meat, 2 fat.

Healthy Salad Recipes and Cooking Tips

Dairy-Free Banana Rice Pudding
This rice pudding is dairy-free, but the bananas and rice milk make it so creamy and rich-tasting, no one will know the difference.

Makes 8 servings, generous 1/2 cup each

ACTIVE TIME: 30 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 3 1/2 hours (includes 2 hours chilling time)

1 cup brown basmati rice
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon gluten-free vanilla rice milk, divided (see Tip)
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 ripe bananas, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Combine rice, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until the liquid is fully absorbed, 45 to 50 minutes.
  2. Stir in 3 cups rice milk, brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and bring to a lively simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Stir cornstarch and the remaining 1 tablespoon rice milk in a small bowl until smooth; add to the pudding. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the mixture is the consistency of porridge, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  3. Mash 2 bananas in a small bowl. Stir the mashed bananas and vanilla into the pudding. Transfer to a large bowl, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.
  4. Just before serving, slice the remaining 2 bananas. Top each serving with a few slices of banana and sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 208 calories; 2 g fat (0 g sat, 0 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 49 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 3 g fiber; 182 mg sodium; 213 mg potassium. 3 Carbohydrate Servings. Exchanges: 2 starch, 1 fruit.

Tip: Some brands of rice milk may contain gluten. Gluten-free brands include Pacific Natural Foods or 365 Organic.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: Prepare through Step 3, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Finish with Step 4 just before serving.

Digestive Health Recipes and Menus

From with permission.  © 2008 Eating Well Inc.

Similar Questions on
Related Life123 Articles

Before you swear off chocolate forever, take a moment. What seems like a chocolate allergy could be something altogether different.

A peanut allergy is often one of the most dangerous and frightening allergies we come across.

Frequently Asked Questions on
More Related Life123 Articles

When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune systems respond by treating this substance like a foreign invader and damaging the lining of the small intestine.

The other day I asked this young guy who was stocking the shelves in the medicine/vitamin area where the Lactaid was. His reply: "What's that?" I must admit that sometimes I'm surprised to hear that they don't know what Lactose Intolerance is.

Lactase, the enzyme found on the surface of cells in the small intestine, breaks down lactose, the sugar found in dairy products.

© 2015 Life123, Inc. All rights reserved. An IAC Company