Catering for dietary requirements: what you need to know

Growing up, it wasn’t often that our parents had to cater for allergies and food intolerances when we had a friend over after school. Now it seems like every second child and their dad has foods they need to avoid.

Speaking to Good Food, gastroenterologist Professor Katie Allen says there are a number of reasons allergies are becoming more commonplace, from changes in our gut bacteria that result from living in cleaner environments to the different ways our food is being made. She even says there is evidence women’s bodies ‘reset’ after pregnancy.

The reality is, whatever the cause, more and more we need to cater for people’s dietary requirements. So before you decide on your menu, let’s go through the top 10 allergies and dietary requirements and what you need to know about them.

1. Dietary requirement:
Coeliac disease

Can’t eat: Wheat, oats, rye or barley, foods that contain gluten, some spices (which contain starch or wheat flour).

Symptoms: Diarrhoea, bloating, cramping, ulcers, muscle pains, skin irritations, abdomen and bowel inflammation, other health problems due to lack of nutrients.

Around 1 in 70 Australians are affected by Coeliac disease – 80% of which are undiagnosed. Coeliac disease causes the immune system to abnormally react to gluten and the bowel to become inflamed. This in turn reduces the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, which can lead to other health problems. While there’s no cure, most people can live a normal life if they stick to a gluten-free diet. The good news is, people with Coeliac disease can tolerate rice. Find out more about Coeliac disease here.

Try this Black Bean Chili with Winter Squash recipe from, which is also vegetarian.

Dietary requirement: FODMAP, such as fructose malabsorption

Can’t eat: Onions, garlic, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, green peppers, sweet potatoes, fruit juices, tomatoes, beans, peas, corn, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, jams, some condiments such as BBQ sauce, tomato sauce.

Symptoms: Stomach pain, bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea.

You may have heard of FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols), the acronym is made up of the names of molecules some people have trouble absorbing. For example, being unable to absorb fructose (part of the Disaccharides) leads to a build-up in the intestine and causes symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome. Research is still green when it comes to fructose malabsorption, yet it’s a growing digestive disorder, possibly due to the food industry’s increased use of high fructose corn syrup. There are suggestions it is caused by damage from other intestinal problems like Coeliac disease. There are heaps of low-FODMAP diet guides out there, like this one by Monash University.

Try these FODMAP Friendly BBQ Slaw Burgers by The Fructose Friendly Chef.

Dietary requirement: Nut allergy

Can’t eat: Hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, chestnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, coconut, some cookies, chocolate, grain breads, energy bars, granola.

Symptoms: Skin irritations, rashes, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, itchy mouth, throat or eyes, swelling of the tongue, throat and lips, shortness of breath, anaphylactic reactions.

Nut allergies are one of the most common in the world. Those of us with primary school-aged kids are very familiar with the strict rules in place at schools around nuts. These rules are in place because of the minimal contact needed – even just inhalation – for nuts to have deadly effects on people with the allergy. Those with a diagnosed nut allergy carry an EpiPen®.

No need to miss out on Thai food, try this Tilapia in Thai sauce from BBC Good Food.

Dietary requirement: Shellfish

Can’t eat: Prawns, crabs, lobsters, oysters, abalone, shrimps, octopus, oysters, calamari, surimi, crawfish, snails, gumbo, paella. Some Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese or Malaysian foods.

Symptoms: Mouth tingling, skin irritation, dizziness, fainting, throat swelling, difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis, drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse.

According to Food Allergy Research and Education, 60% of people with shellfish allergy had their first allergic reaction as adults. People with shellfish allergy are encouraged to avoid it entirely and to carry an EpiPen®. If you’re preparing food, you should ensure shellfish doesn’t come into contact with any other food being served. Interestingly, people with this allergy are also often allergic to mites, dust and cockroaches.

If you love your shellfish, try this Seafood and Sausage Gumbo with imitation crab meat from Kitchology.

Dietary requirement: Vegan

Can’t eat: Meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, honey, Worcestershire Sauce, some juices, some beers and wines, jelly, some canned vegetable soups, chocolate, non-organic sugar, artificially dyed red foods, veggie burgers (which contain egg/dairy), Omega-3-fortified products.

Vegans do not eat any animal-based products. While veganism is not an allergy or intolerance, it is a strict diet many people follow for ethical reasons. There are a number of foods and condiments, which do not obviously use animal-based products, that vegans cannot eat.

Try this Cauliflower Fettucine Alfredo recipe by Oh She Glows.

Dietary requirement: Eggs

Can’t eat: Hen’s eggs, some breaded and batter-fried foods, horseradish sauce, some salad dressing, desserts like meringue, custard, ice cream or cake, some pasta, some meat substitutes, some medications, egg noodles, some pastries.

Symptoms: Skin irritation, nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, coughing, wheezing, tightness of chest, difficulty breathing, cramps, nausea, vomiting.

Surprisingly, up to 10% of babies in Australia have an allergy to egg. The Royal Children’s Hospital fact sheet says 70-80% of kids can tolerate baked egg, but advise talking to a doctor about which foods should be avoided. Most kids will grow out of the allergy by the time they’re 12-years-old.

For those who can’t resist a good muffin, try this egg-free Chocolate Muffin recipe from Taste.

Dietary requirement: Cow’s milk

Can’t eat: Cow’s milk, cream, yoghurt, butter, cheese, custard, ice cream, some potato chips, some tomato sauce, frozen foods like fish sticks or chicken nuggets, Nutella, vinaigrettes, some biscuits.

Symptoms: Stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, vomiting.

People who are allergic to milk are either lactose intolerant or allergic to milk proteins, sometimes both. Lactose intolerance means you’re unable to digest lactose found in milk products, while a milk allergy is when your body’s immune system sees milk proteins as foreign invaders and releases histamines. Milk allergy is most prevalent in children and can be outgrown by the time they’re six. Usually you can switch out milk for other milks like soy and almond.

Try Jamie Oliver’s tasty Almond & Honey Dairy-Free Ice Cream.

Dietary requirement: Fish

Can’t eat: All fish, salad dressing, Worcestershire sauce, Bouillabaisse, meatloaf, BBQ sauce, Asian sauces like fish sauce.

Symptoms: Skin irritation, breathing difficulties, drop in blood pressure, throat, mouth and nose swelling, vomiting, diarrhoea, anaphylaxis.

A lifelong allergy, about 40% of people with this allergy experienced their first reaction as an adult. Being allergic to fish doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allergic to shellfish as well, but it is possible. Also, not all fish affect every person with the allergy but it’s usually advised to stay away from fish in general.

Try this Herbed Chicken Stew with Dumplings free of all top allergens from Allergic Living.

Dietary requirement: Soya

Can’t eat: Soybeans, bean sprouts, bread crumbs, cereals, crackers, imitation dairy food, vegetable broths, miso soup, Teriyaki sauce, low-fat peanut butter, energy bars, protein powder, hamburger meat and buns, meat alternatives.

Symptoms: Swelling around the face and throat, skin irritation or redness, mouth tingling, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing.

An allergy to soy isn’t life threatening but can cause a lot of discomfort. As it’s used in a lot of alternative foods like energy bars and Asian dishes, it can be hard to spot. Most packaging labels will say whether the product contains soy. For most people with this allergy in Australia, their biggest minefield is the local café where soy milk is on offer and cross-contamination of milk jugs can happen.

Try this Chipotle Chicken Quinoa Burrito Bowl, which is also nut, egg and gluten-free.

Dietary requirement: Sesame seeds

Can’t eat: Sesame seeds, some biscuits, sauces and breads, muesli, lollies, some dips.

Symptoms: Stomach pain, skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, swelling around the face, difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis.

A sesame seed allergy can be a tough one to live with, particularly as it’s lifelong, because not all food packaging will say if it contains sesame seeds. Look out for other seeds like sim sim, benne or gingelly seeds, which can indicate their presence.

Don’t take all the dips off the table, try this Sesame-Free Hummus recipe from Gluten Free and More.

The easiest way to guarantee your meals are allergen-free is making them from fresh ingredients. Head to Coles, Woolworths and Central Health Food for the best fresh produce on offer and their food preparation advice.