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Shopping with Food Allergies in Mind

For many shoppers, checking food labels for nutritional content, dietary value, and health-conscious ingredients has become a routine. But for the estimated 12 million Americans who suffer from food allergies, reading labels to distinguish "good foods" from "bad foods" can be a frustrating experience.

Not to worry—though the different types of food allergies are many, the most common are surprisingly easy to accommodate by shopping at the co-op:

  • Wheat allergy sufferers should steer clear of ingredients like flour, bran, wheat germ, and modified food starch. But bread isn’t off the menu altogether—breads baked with spelt or kamut are okay. And substitutions like rye crackers, puffed rice cereals, and quinoa pastas are all readily available at the co-op.
  • Corn allergy sufferers might be the most worthy of sympathy—it can be extremely difficult to avoid the ubiquitous ingredient on today’s market shelves. Keep an eye out for maltodextrose, dextrose, and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as cornmeal and corn oil, and look for substitutions like vegetable oil, rice syrup, honey, and wheat-based tortillas and chips.
  • A gluten allergy, also known as celiac disease, is a reaction to the proteins found in high levels of wheat. Gluten-free eaters will find a variety of allergy-friendly foods at the co-op, including gluten-free cookies, cereals, snack chips, and baking mixes. White and brown rice, corn, and potato are also gluten-free staples.
  • Those with dairy allergies find that the proteins in milk and whey cause respiratory symptoms and even skin irritation. Digestive disturbances often indicate intolerance to lactose, or milk sugars. Look for dairy-free alternatives to yogurt, cheese, beverages, and other foods at your co-op, and pass up anything that contains caseinate, lactose, lactalbumin, nonfat dry milk, milk solids, or whey.
  • Nut allergy sufferers should read labels carefully for the presence of peanuts, peanut butter, or peanut oil (which often sneaks into processed foods), as well as any specific nut to which they are allergic.

Luckily, the FDA requires food producers to clearly state on food labels the sources of allergy-triggering ingredients, either in parentheses after the ingredient name (“flour (wheat)”) or in a disclaimer next to the ingredient list (“Contains wheat”).

By keeping a close eye on your food labels and experimenting with creative substitutions, you’re sure to create a diet that’s less about avoiding the source of your allergy and more about enjoying all its delicious alternatives.