Always, always, always check the food label.
Food allergies can range from frustrating to life-threatening. Whether you’ve recently learned your food allergy diagnosis, or you’re cooking for someone with a food allergy, it’s helpful to know the basics of food allergy substitutions.
Remember: Even if a product looks “safe” for your food allergy, always check the allergen information at the back of the label. Foods may contain sneaky sources of allergens. For example, soy sauce contains wheat, and some candies contain eggs.
Swapping Out Tree Nuts + Peanuts
Tree nuts and peanuts are technically different—peanuts fall into the legume category. You might be allergic to just one category, but many people are allergic to both.
Instead of munching on nuts and trail mix, you can snack on roasted chickpeas or soybeans, crispy rice cereal, or nut-free granola. (Find out how to make roasted chickpeas here.)
If you’re allergic to peanuts but not tree nuts, you can try almond butter and cashew butter instead of peanut butter. Otherwise, try seed butters, such as sunflower seed butter or even pumpkin seed butter.
Swapping Out Dairy
You’re in luck: Today’s dairy aisles are packed with plant-based alternatives. Experiment with soy, almond, cashew, and oat milk to find the one that works for you. Some are great with coffee, some are great for savory cooking, and some are great from the glass.
Along with plant-based milks, try almond-based yogurt for an easy breakfast or snack. Look for unsweetened varieties to reduce your intake of added sugars. You can also use cashew cream to add silkiness in your cooking, to swap out heavy cream.
Swapping Out Soy
Soy can be tricky since it frequently sneaks into a variety of processed foods. That’s why it’s really important to check the labels.
For sushi and stir fry, replace soy sauce with coconut aminos. It’s completely soy-free, but tastes nearly identical to soy sauce.
If you’re looking for a plant-based protein, skip soy-based tofu and tempeh and try seiten instead. Sometimes called “wheat meat,” seitan is made from the protein of wheat and makes a chicken-like product. You can also look for soy-free tofu made from other legumes, like chickpeas.
Finally, be careful with your oil choices. Many vegetable oils contain a mix of oils, often including soy. Try olive oil or sunflower seed oil, and check the label to make sure there’s no soy oil added.
Swapping Out Wheat
A wheat allergy and a gluten intolerance are not the same thing. However, since gluten is a protein in wheat, avoiding gluten will naturally help you avoid wheat. Experiment with gluten-free flour mixes for your baking, and try gluten-free breads and baked goods. It may take some time to find the products you like best.
Alternatively, you can ditch the “copycat” products and embrace grains that are naturally wheat-free. For your starches, make meals with brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, or corn tortillas.
Swapping Out Eggs
If you love to eat eggs, try whipping up tofu scramble instead of scrambled eggs. You can eat tofu scramble on its own, or you can mix it with sauteed veggies. The best part? You can store leftover tofu scramble in the fridge and reheat it later (it won’t get all rubbery like leftover eggs).
For baking, there are a number of eggless binders you can try. For example, you can swap eggs in baking with:
- Flax eggs (flax meal mixed with water)
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Pumpkin puree
- Mashed banana
- Vegan egg replacer (such as Ener-G Egg Replacer)
- Silken tofu
Whatever your allergy, do your research. There’s a world of possibilities for satisfying and delicious foods—once you look beyond your limitations.
- Cooking and baking without egg ingredients. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (Accessed on August 26, 2020)
- Cooking and baking without milk ingredients. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (Accessed on August 26, 2020)
- Food allergies. American Academy of Family Physicians, 2017. (Accessed on August 26, 2020)
- Recipe substitutions for peanuts and tree nuts. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (Accessed on August 26, 2020)
- Recipe substitutes for soy allergy. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (Accessed on August 26, 2020)
- Recipe substitutions for wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (Accessed on August 26, 2020)