Friday, June 15, 2012

Creative Eating

I never understood food allergies until I had them myself.  It first started with lactose intolerance, and I was in denial about it even though two of my sisters had it.  There was no way I was going to give up dairy products, especially cheese and ice cream.  I was 19 years old and going to the U of M.  I’d eat breakfast (usually a bowl of cereal with milk), jump on the bus, and by the time I finished my first class, I felt like someone had socked me in the gut.

Over time (several months) I learned how to manage my diet, and read labels for things like non-fat dry milk and whey.  I took lactase pills and used lactose free milk, ate hard cheeses and yogurt, and if I was really on top of things I could suck down a malt once in a while and have no problems.

It was just a few years ago when I discovered all my other allergies.  I kept having digestive problems, dizziness, fatigue and a number of other symptoms and decided to cut out all dairy from my diet, but that didn't help.  I had a barrage of tests done for everything from iron deficiency to ticks to low blood sugar.  Finally, I took a blood test and found I was allergic to dairy, gluten, egg whites and a few other odd things.  So, what's left?  Needless to say, the first few months were very difficult.  I'd open the cupboards, and they'd be full of food but I couldn't eat anything.  It was a major decision every time I wanted to put something into my body.  And what if I decided to cheat?  How bad would it screw up my system?  How long would it take to recover?

So, then life starts to revolve around food and eating.  I had to decide that it was ok to go to four different grocery stores during the week, to be exclusive with my own food, and that I'd need to spend a little more for some of the specialty products.  There's also the social factors involved.  You can't just go out to a restaurant with friends; you have to research and find out if there's anything on the menu you can eat and then when you get there, you drill the waitstaff and have a discussion with the manager or the chef about cross-contamination.  Potlucks used to be easy.  Now, I make sure I bring something I know I can eat as well as share.

With the first couple of weeks of eating differently I felt better.  I was always a thin person, but for some reason ever since I was a kid, I'd have a perpetually bloated gut.  When I started eating differently, I lost a lot of water weight and the bloat disappeared.  My dancing improved because I wasn't so dizzy, and my body felt more streamlined and fine-tuned.  I've discovered a lot of great foods like quinoa pasta, garbanzo bean pancakes, teff, almond milk, coconut milk ice cream.  My health has been pushed to a higher standard.

There are a lot of resources, especially in the Twin Cities for people with food allergies.  Some of my favorite links are listed below.

Northland Celiacs - a great overall resource

The Spunky Coconut - great recipes using coconut flour

Living Without - probably the best magazine for people with multiple allergies; great recipes, travel tips, new research

The Allergic Birthday Cake - one of my favorite cookbooks

Grocery Stores
Fresh & Natural - superb - everything is marked if it's gluten or dairy free

Mississippi Market - best place to get GF/DF/EF muffins

Seward Co-op

Favorite Restaurants
Brasa - Caribbean
Vina - Vietnamese
Shish - Mediterranean
Wok Cuisine - Chinese
Fresh Picked Pizza
Trotter's Cafe - bakery and sandwiches (and coffee!)


  1. I am happy for you that you discovered your allergies and have learned to manage them. I realize it still must be difficult, but know what the problem is assures you that you are half way to solving it.

    Thank you for the links.

    Have a great day

  2. Thanks so much! Yes, having an accurate diagnosis helps a lot.

  3. Very interesting blog about eating. I am such a picky eater too that the running joke in my family is that someday I will order a BLT, hold the bacon, lettuce and tomatoe. I do like BLTs. Most food especially if it's unusual food, tastes weird to me. Go figure - except for sweets. I LOVE sweets but trying to watch the intake until I drop a few pounds. I was fed grilled cheese sandwiches when I was young and now my parents wonder why I am hooked. :) But in 2004, I had my gallbladder out and since then, I can't eat fruit or heavy dairy in the morning otherwise, I get this horrific cramping and need to find a toilet fast and then it comes out of me in almost soupy form - yuck. So, I too need to watch what I eat all of the time. It's been a life long habit and something that I too need to cope with everyday. The restaurants, I can relate, I usually (1) eat before going out just incase they don't have anything I like (I only eat chicken and lots of fruit/veggies - no seafood/and no red meat or hamburgers) or (2) find the menu to make sure I like the place. I don't do well with places with "fancy" food where the plate looks more like art work than food. BUT recently, I went to the doctor who said that she was really impressed with my eating style/habits because for years my cholesterol has been really really good. I emailed my family and told them as a hint to stop bugging me about the way I eat. As I see it, I order things that I will eat. If I won't eat for example, croutons on a salad, why order them?? I don't want to waste my food... :) So, I understand your blog... and lucky you to have probably other ideas of things that you CAN eat that won't make you ill. Have you ever had a doctor check for gallstones? Before I had my gallbladder out, I felt a lot like you felt after you eat dairy, etc. And now, it's much better as long as I eat something bland in the morning first. :) Thanks for sharing.

    1. Wow, lots of food struggles for you, too. Actually, I like the "fancy" food restaurants because those are the places that will usually go out of their way to make sure I'm not eating something I shouldn't. We went to a great seafood restaurant in Florida and the waiter was right on top of things as far as what to recommend.

      that's great that you can still eat ice cream & do your socials. I've found the coconut ice cream and I've been enjoying that a lot.

  4. It is amazing how many good resources are out there for specialty diets... and I often wonder if gluten free would be better for us all. I do try to diversify our family diet as much as possible (am definitely going to try garbonzo bean pancakes!) My 7year old is lactose intolerant, so we have discovered the coconut ice cream. Hem! Do you use a cheese substitute though or just live without it? I'm not having much luck with that one!

    1. I like the soy cheese that comes in packages as shreads. It works really well for making pizza. There's another cheese substitute called daiya but I don't care for it much. (Ok, to be perfectly honest, the flavor and texture remind me of rubber.) I've also used tofu instead of cheese in lasagna.