The challenge of food allergies


One day you’re trucking along eating whatever you like, and then *BOOM* all of a sudden you’re diagnosed with food allergies and it feels like you’re not allowed to eat a damn thing.

Sure the health improvements no longer eating a poisonous substance are immense. You’ll probably have more energy, better skin, less stomach pain … yada yada yada, but no one talks about how sad it is to say goodbye to all the noms.

It’s like being on a diet, except unlike Weight Watchers, you can’t save up points to be able to cheat on yummy stuff in the weekend. There’s no end in sight, this is your life now (sob).

For the newly diagnosed, sticking to the dietary plan can be hard. You have to get your head around learning what’s safe for you to eat, and you’ve then got to fight the constant temptation around to ‘just have a bite’ of  the yummy food you used to know and love.

You can expect the first few months of allergy-free living to be pretty overwhelming, but over time it does become easier to resist the lure of puff pastry and crème brulee, and know what you can eat instead.

Here are some tips to make life easier for the newly diagnosed:

Remind yourself why you’re avoiding certain foods. You’ll be healthier if you don’t eat them.  Remember those horrible side-effects you used to suffer when you were eating like a normal person (I bet you don’t miss those). For people with coeliac disease (including people those with no gastro-intestinal symptoms), this is particularly pertinent: eating gluten just once a month increases mortality rates to six times that of a coeliac who sticks to eating gluten-free.

Make friends online. There are tonnes of groups on Facebook for every kind of food allergy. Join a group, talk to others who have the same issues as you and you’ll find new ways of coping, as well as tips for what to cook and where to shop.

Build a support network. You are much more likely to avoid allergic foods if your friends and family are supportive of your need to eat safely. Educate the people around you so they can help you make the right decisions.

Don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake. Mistakes are inevitable when you’re still learning. When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t realise that beer contained gluten …. Oops, I found out AFTER I’d had beersies with a friend and ended up hanging out in her bathroom all evening.

Do your homework. You will have to become your own health advocate. It’s up to you to learn what foods are and aren’t okay, so you can keep yourself safe. Go to the library, look online and talk to others with the same food allergies so you can learn how to read food labels.

Learn how to make tasty food. Allergy-free food doesn’t need to be fun free. Learn to cook allergy-free so you can make your own safe versions of your old favourites. Check out my column in last month’s Fitness Journal for more on cooking with food-allergies.

Join up. There are several organisations that offer support and resources for people with food allergies e.g. Allergy New Zealand and Coeliac New Zealand

PS Happy Junk Free June! If you’re trying to give up the white stuff (I’m talking about sugar here, not cocaine), why not try some alternatives to refined sugar like maple syrup or stevia next time you do some baking.


gravyGravy from scratch
You know what tastes great with roast lamb? Gravy!

Gravy is really easy to make from scratch, and can be made gluten and dairy-free.

Here’s how:
After roasting your leg of lamb, remove from the oven dish. Drain off any fat. (Note: if you don’t drain off the fat, the gravy won’t thicken properly).You are then left with the meat juices and yummy browning.

Add some water to the oven dish. It’s hard to say how much, just add enough so that you have more liquid, but don’t remove all the flavour of the juices. You can always add more later.  Heat the dish on the stove top, stirring with a fork.

In a small cup, mix 1-2 tablespoons of arrowroot with a small amount of water. Add the mix slowly to the oven  dish, stirring as you go until gravy reaches the desired thickness.

Add salt and pepper to flavour, and gluten-free tamari. Mix, and serve. Voila!

White sauce
Melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a pot (being careful not to burn the butter). Add a raised tablespoon of arrowroot, and salt and pepper to flavour and whisk.

Slowly add milk until reaches the required consistency (keep whisking to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot). You can also add cheese and chopped parsley to the sauce – yum!


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